Police officers claim racism in lawsuit

Megan Holland

Two veteran Anchorage police officers filed suit against the city Tuesday, contending there is widespread racism within the police department.

Detectives Alvin Kennedy and Eliezer Feliciano describe in their suit a department that treats minority officers badly and discriminates in the way it treats members of the public.

Kennedy, who is African-American, and Feliciano, who is Hispanic, have both been with the department 20 years. They were the most senior undercover detectives in the drug unit when some of the incidents alleged in the lawsuit happened.

"Detectives Kennedy and Feliciano believe that there is systemic racism within the Anchorage Police Department," the lawsuit says. This includes "sanctioned racial profiling, disparate treatment of minority officers, and the condoning of constitutional violations by white officers against minorities."

Police chief Mark Mew, who has been on the job since January, had not yet heard about the suit Tuesday afternoon and could not comment, a spokesman said.

Among the specific episodes alleged in the suit to support the officers' contentions is one from June 2007 in which Kennedy, who was working undercover at the time and driving an undercover police car, claims he was tailed for nearly five miles by a uniformed police officer before he was stopped. The white officer didn't believe him when he said he was an undercover cop -- he didn't recognize him from around the department, and Kennedy said the only reason he was stopped was because he was black, according to the suit.

When Kennedy complained to supervisors about the traffic stop, a sergeant told him that he should be more visible around the department so other officers know who he is, the suit claims.

A Hispanic officer who was also undercover had a similar experience but as soon as the on-duty police officer approached his undercover cop car, he recognized the undercover officer, the suit says.

That officer's daughter, who is Puerto Rican, has also been stopped and questioned numerous times in the Fairview area, according to the lawsuit. On one stop, she was told that she could not have the Puerto Rican flag displayed from her mirror, according to the lawsuit.

The allegations against the Anchorage police include the contention that about a year ago a new lieutenant to the undercover drug unit chastised minority officers for wearing "urban wear clothing ... typically worn by minorities in inner city areas," the lawsuit says.

The officers were told "that it was inappropriate that they looked like thugs and criminals. (The lieutenant) hid his agenda by stating he wanted the undercover unit to give the appearance that they were still police officers," the lawsuit says.

It says the lieutenant never took issue with the white officers' clothing, which included biker-style gear and Carhartts.

Minority officers are also disciplined differently than white officers, the suit says. Two minority officers were disciplined more harshly after a search and seizure incident than other Caucasian officers, the suit says.

It also says a captain filed an internal complaint against Kennedy and Feliciano saying they lied about a joint police and federal Drug Enforcement Administration drug seizure. They were exonerated by the internal investigation, the suit says, but the captain still told them he thought they were lying.

There are roughly 375 police officers in the Anchorage Police Department. Spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said of the 530 total employees of the department, about 18 percent are minority. The lawsuit says there is not enough done to hire minority officers.

Parker referred questions about the lawsuit to the city attorney. The city's attorney, Dennis Wheeler, contacted Tuesday afternoon, said he hadn't yet seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment on it.

The suit asks for more than $100,000 in damages.

The city faced a previous discrimination lawsuit in 1996, when two APD officers alleged they had been passed over for promotion because of their race. The city settled that suit by agreeing to pay each man $75,000.