City of Georgia to pay $600,000 to resolve racial discrimination lawsuit against white officials

COLUMBUS, Georgia (AP) – A Georgia city is paying $600,000 to settle allegations that a black former police chief racially discriminated against two white officers by not promoting them.

The Ledger Enquirer of Columbus reports that the Columbus City Council voted 9-0 on Tuesday to settle the federal lawsuit against the city in 2022. Lt. Ralph Dowe, Lt. Tony Litle and her lawyers will each receive $200,000.

Dowe and Litle alleged that former police chief Freddie Blackmon, who was pushed into retirement by city officials earlier this year, broke federal law when Blackmon bypassed them. They also claimed that the city’s affirmative action plan, which asked employees to conform to Columbus-area racial affiliation, was “face discriminatory.”

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A judge has agreed to order a mental exam for a former Army soldier accused of crashing a military Humvee into an office building for base commanders in Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Dowe, president of the Fraternal Order of Police chapter, was involved in Blackmon’s downfall and testified before the Columbus City Council in 2022 that a union poll found officers lacked confidence in Blackmon.

The city paid Blackmon $400,000 for retirement. The city’s second black boss once demanded $850,000 and threatened to sue the city for racial discrimination.

In Columbus, officers deserted the force despite a record 70 murders in 2021. The number of murders has since declined. The department oversees all of Muscogee County under the consolidated city-county government of Columbus.

The lawsuit alleged that when Blackmon became chief in 2020, he avoided promoting five white captains to open command positions and instead changed the rules to allow him promotion of lieutenants, giving him a pool with more black people who were eligible for promotion.

The changes also caused a 2018 list of people eligible for promotion to captain, which included Dowe and Litle, to expire. Individuals seeking promotion had to take a new test, and Dowe and Litle were rated “highly commendable for promotion”, which under city rules meant that Blackmon should promote them to captain before those with lower ratings.

But Dowe and Litle said Blackmon promoted every eligible black person and woman after the rule change. While some white men were also promoted, Dowe and Litle said they were wrongly passed over in favor of those with less experience and worse disciplinary sanctions.

Mayor Skip Henderson said WRBL TV that Dowe and Little will stay with the police.

“Once we get that behind us, we can focus all of our energy, time and attention on making Columbus the safest city,” Henderson said.

City officials previously described the allegations as “completely unfounded.”