Ex-cops' racial discrimination lawsuit against Anchorage police goes to jury

Casey Grove

A racial discrimination lawsuit brought against the Municipality of Anchorage by two former drug detectives is now up to a jury to decide after closing arguments Wednesday.

Alvin Kennedy and Eliezer Feliciano were undercover detectives and had been with the Anchorage Police Department for 20 years before leaving what their 2010 lawsuit described as a hostile work environment. A lawyer for Kennedy, who is African American, and Feliciano, who is Hispanic, told jurors Wednesday his clients were treated unfairly because of their race. They were also passed over for promotion or quality assignments and had their reputations smeared by police officials trying to cover up the alleged discrimination, said Ken Legacki, their lawyer.

The lawsuit claims "sanctioned racial profiling, disparate treatment of minority officers, and the condoning of constitutional violations by white officers against minorities."

The men are asking for $2 million each for wages they could have earned if they had been able to continue working and compensation for mental anguish.

The city's lawyer, Linda Johnson, said the accusations by Kennedy and Feliciano are untrue. Johnson, who was hired from a firm outside the municipal attorney's office for more than $350,000, said the men were insubordinate. She asked the jury not to award them any damages after the nearly 20-day trial.

But Legacki said the men were known as "the best drug cops in the city." They performed mid- to high-level undercover drug purchases, taking down the biggest of Anchorage's drug suppliers by working long-term cases, Legacki said.

According to the lawsuit, there was racial profiling by white officers that Kennedy experienced while working undercover. He was once followed for several miles by an officer, then pulled over, all because he is black, the lawsuit says.

Kennedy complained to superiors and suffered retaliation because of it, Legacki said.

On another occasion, Kennedy, Feliciano and other people of color in the metro drug unit were told they were dressing too much like thugs and "gangbangers," Legacki said. The white detectives in the unit, who dressed like bikers, were never reprimanded, the lawyer said.

Only the minority detectives were forced to report to meetings in suit and tie, "paraded around," Legacki said.

Eventually, the unit was disbanded, which was retaliation for detectives raising issues of race, Legacki said. Even when superiors had commended the men on their past work, some were critical afterward of those same cases as an attempt to discredit them, Legacki said. The police brass wanted to find justification for disbanding the unit after the fact, he said.

Cases that were supposedly selected at random later for internal audit somehow tended to be the ones on which the minority detectives had worked, Legacki said. One audit occurred the same month the discrimination lawsuit was filed, the lawyer said.

"There's an old saying that 'the cover up is worse than the crime.' That's what happened here," Legacki said. "Because they had the audacity to stand up as men and say, 'I will not be discriminated against.'"

"Was there disparaging treatment? Absolutely. It was because the unit was becoming too minority," Legacki said.

Johnson, the city's attorney, described the plaintiffs' case as "rumors, speculation, and hearsay, but not a lot of facts." There had been no evidence of discrimination, she said.

Just one example, Johnson said, was that Feliciano failed a test for promotion to sergeant three times. That was not because he was discriminated against: It was clear to his superiors he failed to study, Johnson said. Another minority candidate passed the test on one of the same times that Feliciano took it, she said.

When the department examined the traffic stop on Kennedy and the tactic of trying to get a look at a driver, to see if the driver matched the description of a vehicle's registered owner, they deemed it not to be racial profiling, Johnson said. Just because they decided to stop using the tactic later, in part because the community might think it was profiling, did not mean it was unlawful, discriminatory or ineffective, she said.

And Johnson said the real reason for disbanding the metro drug unit was that after repeated directives to stop the long-term investigations in favor of lower-level drug buys and better productivity statistics, detectives continued to work as they always had.

Feliciano and Kennedy were not happy about the direction commanders wanted their work to go, but they knew the expectations and ignored them, Johnson said.

Another detective testified he knew that police commanders wanted the unit to, "cut the leaves, but the unit thought the real mission was to cut the trunk of the tree," Johnson said.

"They were supposed to figure out how to get the day-to-day work done. Instead, (the) plaintiffs wanted to dictate the strategies," Johnson said. "Plaintiffs did not grasp, however, the overall picture of what the city needed."

"Commanders wanted them to work on the cases that had a broader effect on the safety of the citizens and the neighborhoods."

Johnson disagreed with the claims that Kennedy and Feliciano were ever disciplined directly, especially as a result of racial discrimination. If they were not picked for assignments after the unit was disbanded, it was because the units they wanted were already fully staffed, and if they did not get work on task forces, including with the Drug Enforcement Agency, it was because they had developed a reputation of being difficult to work with and secretive, Johnson said.

Johnson urged the jury not to find for the two ex-cops.

"Plaintiffs have embellished their fear. They have blamed everyone except themselves," she said. "There was no retaliation. Everything that APD has done happened for a reason."

"You should not award them anything."

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4343. Twitter updates: twitter.com/kcgrove.