A veteran Middletown police officer has filed a lawsuit against the department claiming racial discrimination at work and is calling for removal of the chief of police and another township officer.
The complaint, filed in state Superior Court in Freehold last month by an attorney for Patrolman Darrin Simon, an African-American originally from Trinidad, says Simon was subject to “egregious discriminatory misconduct,” and cited instances of receiving racial slurs and being called “boy” and “coon.”
Simon, who was made a full-time officer in 1997, names Police Chief Robert Oches and range master James Griffin. Simon’s attorney, Clifford Van Syoc, said Oches and Griffin are related and that Oches may have tried to cover up Griffin’s actions.
This is the second time Simon has alleged bias incidents in 2009. The first suit was not filed, township Attorney Brian Nelson told the Asbury Park Press.
Simon and his attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.
In the complaint, Simon says he left a mandatory training session on or about May 9, 2009, after being called a “coon” by Griffin, and when he returned, Griffin made more statements about Simon’s home country of Trinidad.
“What do you think, we are on Trinidad time or something? That’s where you’re from, right, Trinidad? I know they are a little slower there; they are on a different time,” the suit alleges Griffin to have said. “So what do you call yourself, are you a Trinidadian? Darrin, that’s one of the islands, right? Where is that?”
A supervisory officer, Sergeant Fred Deickman, stepped in, the complaint said, and told Griffin, “That is enough and we need everyone to fill out their qualification forms; we need to get through this.”
According to the suit, Griffin went on: “Darrin’s my man, right bro, that’s my bro, right Kunta Kinte?” an apparent reference to a fictional character in the slave-era television show, “Roots.” “It doesn’t matter what color you are on the outside, because we are all pink on the inside. Remember the only color the bad guys see is blue.
“You remember what happened to Kunta Kinte, right? They cut off his foot.”
An investigation into the incident did not immediately occur, the complaint says, and Griffin tried to justify his remarks as banter, that the two men were friends and some people don’t understand that’s “just the way we joke.”
A now-retired deputy chief, Frederick Henry, approached Simon and asked what, if anything, he wanted to do about the incident, according to the suit. Simon said he didn’t want to “exacerbate and aggravate” the situation and did not ask for anything specifically to be done, the complaint says.
The lawsuit also says nearly two months later, Oches was nasty, hostile and unprofessional when he called Simon into his office regarding an anonymous complaint to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office he “had” to look into.
The May 9 incident was not the first, the complaint said.
The “discriminatory and hostile work environment” has been going on for years and has never been properly addressed by Oches, according to the filing. Simon was denied certain privileges and advantages at the department, and he was passed over for a position within the detective bureau; two white officers received the transfers, the complaint said.
On February 9, 2010, Simon says in the complaint that, after getting a hair cut, Oches saw Simon and said his hair was getting long and he was “going to need to do something about that,” and “you might need to put it in some corn rows,” which, according to the complaint, appeared to be “an effort to goad or torment plaintiff regarding his race and emphasize Oches’ nonchalant response to the May 9, 2009, racially derogatory comments.”
Nelson, in comments to the Press, said: “This is the second lawyer to attempt to advance these claims, that have far more to do with internal police politics than any purported discriminatory conduct, which is never and will never be tolerated by the township.”
In an email to redbankgreen, Nelson said he would not provide comments beyond those quoted by the Press.
In addition to punitive damages, Simon’s suit demands “the initiation of disciplinary charges against the defendant Oches and defendant Griffin for their removal from their position of public employment or other appropriate relief.”