5 Black Officers Awarded $16M After White Colleague Told Them 'I Own You'

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Five former and current Black University of Washington police officers have been awarded $16 million after accusing the department of racism and discrimination, the Atlanta Black Star reports.

Last week, a jury found the University of Washington Police Department guilty of the allegations lodged against them by plaintiffs Russell Ellis Jr., Gabriel Golden, Hamani Nowlen, Damien Taylor, and Karinn Young.

According to their lawsuit, Black officers faced “widespread acts of racial harassment and discrimination” within the UW Police Department, including the use of the N‐word and other racial slurs, racist stereotypes, and physical intimidation. The lawsuit also alleged that management would threaten Black officers who reported misconduct and block their promotion attempts.

“UWPD has a culture of racial insults and mistreatment that UWPD management is aware of and sometimes directly involved in,” the lawsuit stated. “In addition to the pervasive racial harassment, UWPD managers have also threatened Black officers to keep them from seeking promotions and retaliated against those who have reported misconduct.”

The lawsuit cited instances of harassment starting from 1998 when one white sergeant allegedly distributed flyers with racist stereotypes and jokes. After a Black officer reported the flyers, the sergeant was ordered to take diversity training, but the racial slurs and misconduct continued.

According to the suit, “trainings are not taken seriously” by management.

“For example, during a meeting to discuss one such training, UWPD supervisors were advised that two White officers had said of the training, ‘I am not going to give up White privilege because of Black Lives Matter bulls—t.’ The supervisors did nothing in response,” the lawsuit states.

2009 Dr. John N. Vinson was appointed as the department's first Black police chief. After hiring more Black officers, Vinson's white colleagues called for an investigation in 2018, saying he had “hired too many officers they believed to be unqualified."

Ellis said he overheard white officers “vocalizing their resentment that Chief Vinson had hired so many Black officers” and “used the n‐word in referring to Chief Vinson.” He also claimed that a supervisor asked him if “all Black people like grape soda?” and said a Black colleague told him about an incident where a white supervisor looked at his genitals in the locker room before saying the “rumor is true about Black men.”

According to the lawsuit, white officers were also heard saying: “[N‐words] are always late for everything” and “[N‐words] are always acting out, and they always want something for free.”

Nowlen, who is still on the UWPD force, alleged that one white officer said George Floyd's “black a** got what he deserved" in the wake of his 2020 murder. Taylor said a white supervisor told him: “I own you! Get the f—k back here!”

In a statement, UW said they were "disappointed" by the jury's verdict.

“Our attorneys are reviewing options for our next steps, including the potential for an appeal,” the statement read. “This case alleged issues that took place largely under previous leadership and went unreported through official channels.”

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