Everett police officers file suit alleging racial discrimination

EVERETT, Wash. -- Three Everett Police officers filed a federal lawsuit against their department on Wednesday claiming discrimination based on their race.

In the 18-page lawsuit, Ofc. Sherman Mah, Sgt. Manuel Garcia and retired Sgt. Richard Wolfington also accuse their superiors of violating the civil service rules.

"They are strong and they are principled," said attorney Victoria Vreeland who is representing the officers. "They're the kind of people that we would want as officers on the street; the kind of people who stand up for the rights of themselves and the rights of others."

Vreeland, who would not allow her clients to speak with KOMO News on Wednesday because of the pending litigation, said the lawsuit is about the city's failure to investigate the complaints and the harsh treatment against each of the officers.

The officers have more than 60 years of experience combined on the Everett Police Department but claim they were denied promotions because of their race.

"They've been repeatedly passed over - even though they were ranked as the most qualified for promotion then retaliated against after they made complaints of what they believe to be unequal treatment," said Vreeland.

Sgt. Garcia, who was the city's first Hispanic and first bilingual officer, claims he was treated more harshly than Caucasian Lieutenants before he was demoted. Garcia said the city and the police department failed to review or investigate the repeated complaints of unfair treatment, according to the complaint.

Richard Wolfington, who identifies with the Native American racial group, left the department last year after a 20-year career. He claimed it was due to mistreatment and deteriorating health conditions because of the stress.

"It just is surprising that still in 2014 we are not seeing equal opportunity and equal treatment, especially in our government agency," said Vreeland.

The City of Everett released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

"The City investigated the plaintiff's allegations and determined they were without merit. The City intends to vigorously defend against the claims. It is important to underscore that the Everett Police Department's core values include integrity, professionalism and honor, and the Department is dedicated to providing a supportive, nondiscriminatory work environment. The Department uses fair processes for employee evaluations and for advancement to ensure that our most capable and effective officer leaders are promoted."

In the lawsuit, the officers repeatedly blame a Captain for the hostile work environment. He's the same officer who was part of a discrimination lawsuit more than 20 years ago, which ended with a $60,000 award for the African-American woman who filed it.