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Monday, June 24, 2024

Former Gainesville Police Department K-9 officer alleges racism within the unit

The lawsuit against the city came months before a K-9 mauled a Black man

<p>The Gainesville Police Department building is located at 545 NW 8th Ave. </p>

The Gainesville Police Department building is located at 545 NW 8th Ave.

A racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the city by an ex-Gainesville Police Department officer in the force’s K-9 unit recently made its way to federal court.

Edward Ratliff, a Black 13-year veteran of the force, alleged white officers casually used racial slurs within the K-9 unit through multiple uses of the n-word. This includes an incident where, in light of a K-9’s euthanization, a white officer said the dog “bit a lot of n—s.”   

Another time Ratliff said he overheard a white officer talking at a party about “those n—s on the east side,” in reference to the Black population of East Gainesville. 

Lonnie Scott, the GPD chief, said in a press conference Thursday that racial discrimination isn’t something he tolerates on the force. The city’s equity and inclusion department once looked into Ratliff’s concerns, he said.

“People can sue for a host of things. That doesn’t necessarily make it valid,” Scott said. “That’s not necessarily something that we want to get into. We leave that to the lawyers.”  

The case will proceed to a jury trial in the Gainesville division of the Northern District of Florida in April 2023, and Judge Allen Winsor will oversee the case. Ratliff will be represented by Orlando attorney Alfred Truesdell.

Ratliff claimed he was removed from the K-9 unit without justification in 2015 and was reassigned to it in 2017. In late 2017, Ratliff received a reprimand for leaving his K-9 at home when he went out to dinner on a weekend. He was told if he were to do it again, he may be removed from the unit, according to the lawsuit.

K-9 officers are expected to remain home with their dogs in the beginning of the relationship, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is noteworthy in light of a police K-9’s July mauling of Terrell Bradley, a 31-year-old Black man, which led to community outrage and protest. GPD released body camera footage Thursday from the incident where Bradley lost an eye.

“The City, however, did not intrude on the personal lives of non-minority officers or impose on them such draconian restrictions under threat of removal from the Unit,” the lawsuit reads.

The facts of the Bradley incident could enhance his client’s case, Truesdell said.

“In discrimination cases, the allegations can be strengthened by showing additional incidents of discrimination, and I think that’s what this does,” he said. “It shows that there was a mentality or a culture that tolerated racial discrimination within the police department.”

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Ratliff also alleges he was disciplined for the minor infraction of submitting his monthly report in an incorrect folder. The city didn’t discipline a white officer who didn’t submit a report at all, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims Ratliff was also mistreated by the department in the aftermath of an injury he sustained while working in May 2019, according to the lawsuit. He was removed from the unit in August 2019, and the lawsuit alleges Ratliff “was falsely accused of lying about a physical therapy appointment related to his injury” in September 2019.

Ratliff was placed under surveillance that month after a city official said he received an anonymous tip indicating Ratliff wasn’t honest about his injury, the lawsuit alleges. His workers’ compensation benefits were suspended in October 2019.

His law enforcement privileges were suspended in December 2019 and not reinstated until July 2020 as an investigation was carried out. The investigation concluded there was no evidence Ratliff lied on his workers’ compensation claim, according to the lawsuit.         

Ratliff detailed incidents where white officers in the unit referred to him as “Radio,” in reference to a mentally disabled Black film character from a 2003 film of the same name. The nickname came from Ratliff’s attentiveness to the police radio during training exercises, documents show. 

Court documents allege when Ratliff expressed offense to the nickname by saying, “You are basically calling me a retarded Black guy,” another officer responded with, “Yes, we know. That’s why it’s funny.” 

 In its response to the allegations contained in Ratliff’s lawsuit, the city of Gainesville, through its attorneys Marc Sugerman and Michele Martin, denied Ratliff was treated unfairly. Howard Waldman is lead attorney representing the city.

“All employment actions taken by Defendant against Plaintiff were taken for legitimate, non-discriminatory, and non-retaliatory reasons,” the response read. 

Contact Omar at Follow him on Twitter @OAteyah.

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Omar Ateyah

Omar Ateyah is a third-year journalism student and the Alligator's Race and Equity reporter. He previously served as the Alligator's crime reporter and as a news assistant on the Metro Desk. He enjoys going on long, thoughtful walks. 

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