4 officers sue Coatesville, alleging race bias

Posted: October 01, 2011

"Subhuman mutants."

That was one of the racial slurs that four Coatesville police officers contend were used routinely by some of their fellow officers and superiors.

The four minority officers have sued the city, saying an atmosphere of discrimination exists in the police department, where, they say, they have been denied promotions, forced to endure slurs, and otherwise treated unequally.

The suit, filed in September in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, seeks compensatory and punitive damages for Carlo F. McKinnie of Drexel Hill, Miguel A. Ortiz of Philadelphia, Jose Colon of Coatesville, and Sylvester D. Earle of Lancaster. Their lawyer, Gregg L. Zeff, could not be reached for comment.

Coatesville City Manager Gary Rawlings said he could not comment on the suit. "These are personnel matters that are being handled by the city's attorneys," he said.

According to the suit, Colon and Ortiz are the only Hispanic officers in the department, which has 35 officers, five of them black. The department has been headed by Chief Julius M. Canale since April 2009.

The suit details numerous instances in which each of the four officers claims to have received less favorable treatment and assignments and more severe discipline than his white counterparts.

For example, the suit says, Ortiz arrived two hours early for his shift one day due to a scheduling mix-up and was told he had to return later. Because Ortiz lives an hour away, he opted to take a sick day; the suit claims he was then disciplined, while a white officer who did the same thing was permitted to work from when he arrived.

In addition, the officers, two of whom have pending complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said they "witnessed white officers and supervisors" use racial epithets to describe minority citizens in the community, "including but not limited to calling them 'subhuman mutants,' " the suit claims.

The police department in Coatesville, a city of 13,100 people, had its share of troubles in recent years. In 2006, Chief Dominick P. Bellizzie quit after he tired of hearing rumors that he was about to be fired. He was replaced by William P. Matthews, whose tenure became contentious when he failed to receive state certification, preventing him from making an arrest or carrying a gun.

In 2009, concern about a demoralized and understaffed police force prompted a blistering letter from Chester County District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll, who urged residents to overhaul their government. Less than a month later, the city found itself in the midst of an arson scourge that made national headlines.

Matthews resigned in April 2009 and was replaced by Canale, a longtime member of the department who had been deemed unqualified for the job two years earlier. The city decided to forgo the residency and academic requirements that had been recommended by a search committee.

On Aug. 22, Lt. Chris McEvoy was suspended with pay over alleged inappropriate fraternization with a subordinate. City officials said an internal investigation was under way.


Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-696-3815, kbrady@phillynews.com, or @brandywinebits on Twitter. Read her blog, "Chester County Inbox," at www.philly.com/chescoinbox.

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