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Police officer alleges racial discrimination

Published: Monday, Dec. 31, 2012 1:30 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO (AP) — A veteran suburban Chicago police officer alleges two fellow officers at the Elgin Police Department used racial slurs and made jokes about the Ku Klux Klan, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week.

Officer Phillipp Brown, who is black, claims the comments and actions of two white officers contributed to "creating and perpetuating a hostile work environment."

Attorneys for Brown filed the lawsuit last week in federal court in Chicago. It names Lt. Sean Rafferty and Internal Investigator James Barnes.

City officials in the suburb about 40 miles northwest of Chicago dismissed the allegations. The police department has about 175 officers.

"The lawsuit is disappointing and without merit," said Elgin City Manager Sean Stegall.

The lawsuit calls for "prompt and severe discipline against those officers who engage in racially discriminatory conduct toward other officers or the public", along with punitive damages. It also seeks to force the police department to provide racial sensitivity training for all employees.

Brown's attorneys, who did not immediately return messages seeking common Monday, also have asked the court to enforce a three-year monitoring period to track how it improves the alleged racially hostile work environment.

It's not the first time Brown has claimed discrimination or that Rafferty has been accused of racist behavior.

Brown, who has worked for the Elgin Police Department since 1996, filed a similar complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011. In response, the city said some of Brown's allegations were outdated due to legal time frames and said some of the incidents were not racially motivated. It also defended an internal investigation as prompt and fair.

Rafferty served an unpaid, five-day suspension in 2011. The lawsuit and EEOC complaint say that during a trip officers took to attend a football game, Rafferty and another officer posed for a photo next to a historical marker honoring the Indiana Times for its work exposing the Ku Klux Klan. In the photograph, Rafferty is smiling and making "K'' signs with his fingers. The photograph was "widely disseminated" around the police department, according to the lawsuit.

The incident — along with race-based jokes and use of racial slurs, among other things — are mentioned in the federal lawsuit.

A message left Monday at a number listed for Rafferty wasn't immediately returned. A number listed for Barnes went unanswered and didn't have voicemail. A police union official did not return a message Monday.

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