Los Angeles Airport Police officials have allegedly discriminated against officers and given preferential treatment to officers based on race, a lawsuit filed by one current and two former police officers has charged.

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court earlier this month alleges that white officers in the Airport Police division have received few promotions in the last three years and were displaced from eligibility for promotion based solely on their race. In contrast, the complaint alleges, though only one black officer ranked in the top 18 positions on a promotional exam in 2007, eight black officers were promoted to sergeant.

Among other allegations in the lawsuit — filed by current Sgt. Jeff Shelton, former Sgt. Arthur Juliano and former officer Edward Corrington — is that while white officers tend to receive harsh discipline for misconduct, the department routinely ignores misconduct by black officers and provides them preferential treatment based on race. Though some black officers were arrested on serious charges such as domestic violence and making threats with a weapon, they still received promotions, the complaint alleges.

According to the complaint, plaintiff Corrington was fired as an airport police officer in 2008 allegedly based on the accusation of domestic violence.

“(The department) has treated people differently based on race, which is illegal. There has been an unlawful practice and our goal is to put an end to it,” alleged attorney Michael McGill, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Asked for comment on the lawsuit filing, Airport Police spokeswoman Sgt. Belinda Nettles told The Argonaut that the department has not yet received the complaint and has therefore not reviewed the allegations. Though the department does not comment on matters involving litigation, the Airport Police division “complies with all anti-discrimination policies and procedures established by the city of Los Angeles,” she said in a statement.

The lawsuit alleges that during tests for promotions to sergeant in 2007, James Butts, the former deputy executive director of airport law enforcement, requested a copy of the promotion list with each officer’s ethnicity and then manipulated the rankings to allow more black officers to be promoted.

Butts strongly rejected claims that he had requested a promotion list or somehow manipulated rankings as director, calling them “absolutely untrue.” He added he was unaware which document is being referred to in the complaint but nonetheless, such a list can’t be manipulated.

“First and foremost, there has never been a situation where racial preference has ever been a consideration in the promotion process. It’s a patently false allegation,” said Butts, a former Santa Monica police chief who is now running for mayor of Inglewood.

Butts defended his service at the airport saying that while he was in charge of public safety, the department tightened up its disciplinary practices and improved the quality of its investigations.

Another of the charges in the lawsuit is that specialized units of the department, such as the K-9 unit, have traditionally been dominated by black officers and this lack of diversity is the result of the practice of maintaining a “virtually all-black division” responsible for recruitment and training.

The plaintiffs, two of whom are no longer employed by Airport Police, contend that they have suffered pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress as a result of department officials’ conduct. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and for the plaintiffs to return to the positions they would have had if not for the alleged adverse employment actions.

“The goal is to put them back to work and to put an end to the unfair treatment,” McGill said.

Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, which represents airport police, said he is aware that similar allegations of discrimination have been made against the department and believes there could be some merit to the plaintiffs’ claims they were wronged. While the accusations have not been proven, there are some concerns that must be addressed, he said.

“It’s definitely disconcerting. I really hope the department does the right thing, looks into it seriously and comes to some type of resolution,” McClain said.

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