Little Rock Officers Discrimination
Four Little Rock police officers, current and former, say they were subjected to unfair treatment at the hands of African-American police Chief Kenton Buckner. (Photo by John Sykes Jr.)

Four Little Rock officers are suing the city over claims of race and age-based discrimination, signaling a widening rift between the city’s Black police chief and members of a Black police officers association.

In their March 12 complaint, the officers alleged they were subjected to “disparate” treatment due to their race and age and were passed up for preferred positions and promotions at the department, according to Arkansas Online. 

Moreover, plaintiffs Lt. Earnest Whitton, Sgts. Willie Davis and Derrick Threadgill and ex-officer Jackie Parker accused Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner of fostering a hostile work environment in retaliation for their involvement with the city’s Black Police Officer’s Association, a group that’s been critical of Buckner’s leadership in the past. The chief isnt named as a defendant in the suit.

The current and former officers claim that they were targeted by Buckner over their BPOA memberships and suffered harassment, suspensions and threats of demotion on the job. The plaintiffs’ attorney, Mike Laux, also charged that Buckner was more willing to harass and discipline his Black officers in order to “relieve white folks of a lot of their guilt.”

“There are many instances of similar conduct by white LRPD officers who were either not disciplined or disciplined…less harshly,” the lawsuit read in regards to a Black officer who was met with “uneven” punishment after testifying against a fellow cop.

According to Newsweek, fellow BPOA officers Lt. Johnny Gilbert Jr. and Captain Tonya Washington are expected to join the suit but must wait for approval from the EEOC for permission to move forward. Both have similar claims of racial discrimination.

At a Monday news conference, Laux noted that a complaint by Davis earlier this year about a racist social media post by a white LRPD recruit got him suspended for 10 days. When it came to pay raises and promotions, Laux said Black officers were told to “be patient” while white officers moved up the ladder. The lawsuit also claims Lt. Whitton, a seasoned officer, was discriminated against when Buckner allegedly changed the criteria for the captain’s test.

“The process was modified by Chief Buckner so that two younger white males, who were ineligible according to the rules, would be considered eligible,” the complaint states.

Whitton was also subjected to discrimination due to his age, the suit alleges, saying the lieutenant was passed up for a younger officer with less experience and qualifications.

“I don’t know if he’s made his career out of being the African-American who’s tough on African-Americans and is thereby useful to white leadership,” Laux said of Buckner, who he accused of using overt racist tactics against Black officers. “He relieves white people of a lot of their guilt.”

The officers’ complaint will be heard by U.S. District Judge Brian Miller and seeks punitive damages, compensatory damages and a declaration that the city engages in discriminatory practices.

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