NEWS / CONTEXT

LAPD Sgt. Ronald Crump Finally Gets His $1.5M
Karen Ocamb
1/16/2013

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 15, approved a $1.5 million settlement to openly gay LAPD Sgt. Ronald Crump, according to the L.A. Daily News. In fact, this was a compromise whereby the city finally stops fighting Crump—but, in exchange, he has to resign from the LAPD.

In 2009, after going through the proper complaint procedure, Crump filed a civil lawsuit against the city and the LAPD alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation by his LAPD supervisors. The city could have addressed the issues and settled then but decided to go to trial. After a 17-day trial in May 2011, the jury unanimously sided with Crump and awarded him over $1.5 million dollars. But the LAPD and city attorney balked, alleging Crump committed misconduct (an allegation later apparently dropped after it was noted that could look like retaliation) and announcing they would appeal—partially, a source told Frontiers at the time, because Crump demanded a subsequent transfer and other benefits outside the judgment. Crump disputed that characterization, saying he asked for a transfer to “make the wrong things right” and so he could salvage his career. The city’s decision not to appeal means Crump gets the roughly $1,560,000 award, a sizable chunk of which will go to taxes and to pay his lawyer.

The Daily News reported that Councilmember Dennis Zine, who is running for City Controller, and Councilmember and former LAPD Chief Bernard Parks were the two opposing votes to the nine votes in favor of settling. “This sends the wrong message to the department and the public,” Zine told the News. “I don’t think this is an appropriate expenditure just for some comments made to him.”

But what Zine describes almost casually as “some comments” made by Crump’s bosses in Media Relations are part of a larger problem Crump’s case at first exposed, then saw buried. Consider this L.A. Times story from Oct. 6, 2011, about a jury award of $2.5 million to three LAPD detectives who filed suit alleging gender discrimination and retaliation by supervisors. The Times reported:

The verdict, delivered Friday after only a few hours of deliberation, is the latest in a long string of costly lawsuits brought by LAPD officers against fellow cops and supervisors for retaliation, harassment and other workplace abuses.

Police Chief Charlie Beck has identified the internal strife — and the Los Angeles Police Department’s inability to address it quickly — as one of the most pressing issues facing the agency. The recent case is likely to increase pressure on Beck to follow through quickly on reforms he said were intended to bring the issue under control.

A recent Los Angeles Times investigation found that from 2005 to 2010, LAPD officers sued the department more than 250 times and that the city had paid settlements or verdicts totaling more than $18 million in about 45 of those cases. Because taxpayer money is used to cover the payouts, such lawsuits have come under increasing scrutiny as the city’s financial problems persist.

And yet, the city elected to delay for eight months, threaten to go back to court with an expensive appeal in Crump’s case. And what, exactly, was that case? Here’s an extended excerpt from the Frontiers story on May 12, 2011, that cites the lawsuit Crump filed:

Openly gay Sgt. Ronald Crump is suing the city of Los Angeles, claiming that his boss in Media Relations, Lt. John Romero, created a hostile work environment for gay and lesbian officers. His civil suit outlines a series of incidents over six months in which Crump claims he was regularly harassed and humiliated. For instance, Crump claims in his lawsuit that Romero said, “I was a religion major at Liberty University—Jerry Falwell would roll over in his grave if he knew I hired you.” The suit notes that Fawell founded the conservative religious university—but doesn’t mention that Falwell’s Moral Majority helped launch the anti-gay movement in 1977 with Anita Bryant.

Crump claims that Romero subjected him to “nearly constant harassment on account of his sexual orientation, including introducing Crump to new co-workers as ‘the new Ruby [Crump’s predecessor]—the only difference is that he doesn’t wear heels.’” When Crump told Romero that he didn’t appreciate being referred to as the “new Ruby,” he says Romero told him to “get over it” and “chuckled as he walked away.”

The lawsuit also details comments Romero allegedly made about other gay LAPD employees, calling one a “quirky, effeminate guy,” and saying about another, “She’s a militant, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ activist lesbian,” among other similar comments.

The lawsuit also reports how in January 2009, a lesbian co-worker “remarked that Lt. Romero made the office environment stressful and that she saw Romero treating Plaintiff and others poorly.” That lesbian left the media relations department one month later, which was closely followed by an inquiry into the concerns about the hostile work environment from then-Assistant Chief McDonnell’s office. McDonnell had an extraordinarily good relationship with the LGBT community.

Crump did a formal exit interview with the departing lesbian and subsequently told Romero that he should be concerned about the hostile work environment. The suit alleges that Romero responded in what Crump perceived to be “career ending terms.”

That’s when Crump complained to [Media Relations chief Mary] Grady, Romero’s boss. After Romero found out about it, the suit alleges that he “screamed at Plaintiff for complaining, and threatened him with making a complaint for ‘rumor mongering’ and stating ‘Don’t forget I hired you even though you’re gay.’”

After that, the lawsuit says, Romero “increasingly began to treat Plaintiff with hostility,” about which the suit provides examples. In April 2009, Crump formally complained about Romero, and things just got worse from there—Crump alleges that Romero threatened to fire him. By late May 2009, Crump was called into a meeting with Grady, Romero and Lt. Pape from McDonnell’s office. By the end of the meeting, Crump said he was told, “You will respect John Romero.”

Crump met with Bratton in June 2009, then left for a month vacation. Upon his return, he was reassigned to the all-civilian 911 Communications Division and then to Skid Row.

On the stand during the civil trial, KPCC radio’s Frank Stoltz reported, “Grady said that Romero’s ‘aggressive discipline’ of Crump was for cause, not for retaliation after he complained, and that she decided to transfer Crump to the Skid Row bicycle detail because the two were not getting along. Grady said that the sergeant did not lose rank or pay in the move from media relations, and that none of the department’s actions occurred because he is gay.”

None of the published reports about the case or trial indicate what that “cause” for “aggressive discipline” was.

The Daily News truncates all that into this, which makes the whole issue seem slight, as if Crump was a whiner:

[Crump] filed the complaint in 2009 after he was ordered transferred from the media relations section and after he said his supervisor, Lt. John Romero, made derogatory remarks about his sexuality.

Crump worked in the media relations section from December 2008 through July 2009, when he was transferred to Skid Row.

He filed a complaint with the LAPD’s Professional Standards Bureau, but no action was taken.

But that’s not what the jury in Crump’s trial believed:

A jury awarded openly gay LAPD Sgt. Ronald Crump $1.16 million Thursday in his civil case against the city of Los Angeles. Crump claimed job discrimination and retaliation by his LAPD management superiors…..

Ironically, the City Attorney’s office spent several costly days putting on witness after witness to besmirch Crump’s reputation and credibility – at the same time the LAPD Inspector General Nicole Bershon issued a report finding systemic problems with how the LAPD handles claims of retaliation. Read the document: LAPD retaliation report

On Tuesday, May 17, LAPD senior officials acknowledged the problems to the LA Police Commission, the LA Times reported:

Responding to a critical report by the department’s independent watchdog, senior LAPD officials offered up an unusually candid mea culpa to the police commission, the civilian body that oversees the department.

“We have a lot of work to do in this area,” Cmdr. Rick Webb, who oversees day-to-day operations of the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Group, conceded to the commission.

LAPD policy forbids officers from retaliating against other officers who report misconduct, take advantage of allotted time off or exercise other rights. Cases of retaliation often involve allegations that officers were unfairly passed over for coveted assignments, given poor work evaluations or harassed with crude behavior.

The report from LAPD Inspector General Nicole Bershon found systemic problems with the way internal affairs investigators look into retaliation claims. Often, the report said, investigators determine that the actions of accused officers do not amount to misconduct.

As a result, the accused officers frequently are not interviewed and sometimes are removed from the investigation altogether, which makes it all but impossible for the department to identify a pattern of misbehavior as a problem employee moves from assignment to assignment, Bershon warned.”

The LAPD senior officers told the commission that the problem could in part be attributed to internal affairs handling a high volume of cases, as well as supervisors lacking the training to address and mitigate workplace disputes.

From the Times:

“Small arguments or miscommunications between officers often are not addressed quickly or effectively, allowing them to “fester and create huge, huge problems,” Webb said.

“The culture change has to be with the commanding officers, to give them the skills to deal with these situations quickly,” Webb said…..

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck acknowledged the need for the department to be better at mitigating problems before they get out of control, saying he is planning to overhaul the way the department handles its “risk management” issues, including lawsuits and other potential liabilities.””

The Times reported that openly gay Police Commissioner Rob Saltzman wasn’t buying it: “This is not a new set of issues,” he said during the meeting. “We have been more patient than we should have been.”

Romero was promoted to Captain after the trial; Grady was eventually fired. Crump is now leaving the LAPD, something he sorely wished he would not have to do. He said this to Frontiers:

A jury of community members proved my truthful allegations and found the City of Los Angeles and LAPD to be guilty and that they discriminated and harassed me based upon my sexual orientation.

Like many, I wished to be judged for my talents, skills, and ability to lead and manage. Don’t judge me for my sexual orientation.

I can no longer try to validate my story but move optimistically forward. Their strategic retaliation over the years has caused me – the victor in court – to finally submit to their settlement or face continued court appeals and the continued humiliation and find more strength to resist the machine and army of City Attorneys and Internal Affair Investigators.

I wish to continue a career in Police Management and to strongly advocate for the Freedom to Work organization that is tirelessly working to secure the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) in over 30 other states that fail to protect sexual orientation discrimination as an equal to age, race, gender, and religion.

For now I will decompress and refresh my life.

I owe many thanks to Freedom to Work and to my dear friends and cops.

I am most indebted to Attorney Greg Smith, candidate for LA City Attorney, and Attorney Portasha Moore for defending my reputation and sharing my story with a judge and jury.

Respectfully,

Ronnie Crump, Sergeant II
Los Angeles Police Department


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