An ACLU of Rhode Island cooperating attorney has filed a charge of race discrimination against the Providence Police Department on behalf of an African-American recruit who was involuntarily dismissed last year from the Police Academy just a few weeks before graduation and after enduring months of harassment from trainers at the Academy. ACLU cooperating attorney Laura Harrington has today also filed a formal claim for damages with the City as a legal prerequisite to the filing of a lawsuit on behalf of the recruit, Michael Clark.
The discrimination charge, filed with the R.I. Commission for Human Rights, states that throughout his tenure at the Academy, Clark “was subjected to discriminatory terms and conditions, harassed, ostracized and humiliated” based upon his race and perceptions of him “based upon negative racial stereotypes.” Specifically, he was singled out for this treatment, the charge claims, because of a Christian rap song that he had written and posted on social media before he applied to the Academy. The song “made reference to black men being killed by police, requests to police ‘Don’t shoot,’ calls for unity among all people and a cry out to God.”
The harassment started on the very first day of the Academy, when the training officers directed Clark to put a “do-rag” on his head and told him to sing for the rest of the class. The harassment continued throughout his training. For example, as part of a training exercise on use of a Taser, while other recruits received a single Taser shock, Clark was selected by the training officers as the only recruit subjected to repeated Taser shocks while he was forced to crawl across the floor, leaving him bleeding and with skin burns.
The charge further claims that Clark was “given extracurricular assignments other recruits were not given and then given demerits based on the officers’ judgment that I had poorly executed those assignments,” and that he was subjected to off-the-job surveillance by his training officers.
Despite the pervasive harassment, the charge states that Clark “continued to pass all of the academic and physical fitness requirements, attended every day of class, passed the field training units, and was in the elite running squad.” Instead of graduating, however, he was dismissed from the Academy almost five months after he began on the basis that he had accumulated too many “demerits.”
The claim notes that Clark “intend[s] to pursue this matter in federal court at the earliest opportunity.” The notice of claim is designed to satisfy a state law requirement to give the City Council at least 40 days’ notice of a claim for damages before bringing suit. In addition to raising claims of race discrimination, the anticipated lawsuit will argue that the Academy violated Clark’s First Amendment right by singling him out and subjecting him to harassment because of the views he expressed in his rap video.
Plaintiff Clark said today: “I applied to the Providence Police Academy because I wanted to make a difference in my community. I grew up in Providence, graduated from LaSalle Academy and attended Johnson and Wales University. I wanted the opportunity to give back to the City of Providence. I am deeply disappointed that I was dismissed from the Academy and will not get the chance to serve the people of Providence as a police officer.”
Added ACLU cooperating attorney Harrington: “Neither Mr. Clark nor this lawsuit is intended to be anti-police. Mr. Clark respects the hardworking officers of the Providence Police Department. He wanted to join them in making Providence a safe place for all people to live. Our Constitution allows citizens to fight for their rights in court, and Mr. Clark has been forced into such a fight, for himself and for other recruits and police officers who come after him.”