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Trial begins Monday in former officers' suit alleging racism at APD

Nathaniel Herz

A trial will begin Monday in a nearly four-year-old lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by the Anchorage Police Department.

The lawsuit, filed by two former members of the department, Alvin Kennedy and Eliezer Feliciano, accuses the police of discrimination on several occasions.

The city is paying an outside law firm more than $350,000 to defend against the lawsuit, according to Municipal Attorney Dennis Wheeler.

Anchorage has settled previous suits filed by officers who were represented by the plaintiffs' attorney, Ken Legacki.

But the city decided to take this case to trial, Wheeler said.

"We're really tired of dealing with these baseless allegations, and that's why we decided to fight them to the death, so to speak," Wheeler said. "We're done just settling them, and so we're going to fight this one out."

Each of the officers is asking for $2 million in damages, Wheeler said.

Legacki, the attorney for the two former officers, declined to comment, citing a court order restricting publicity in the case.

Both Kennedy, who is black, and Feliciano, who is Hispanic, were undercover detectives in a police department drug unit that worked with federal agencies.

Accordingly, the witness list for the trial reads like a Who's Who of Anchorage law enforcement. The city's list includes Chief Mark Mew, former chief Rob Heun, and several top deputies, as well as Derek Hsieh, the president of the Anchorage police union.

The plaintiffs' list includes Karen Loeffler, the U.S. attorney for Alaska, as well as Rex Butler, a prominent local defense attorney, plus many of the same police officials who are on the city's list.

The case was opened in June of 2010, and its files now fill 13 volumes at the Nesbett Courthouse downtown.

The complaint from Kennedy and Feliciano catalogues seven examples of what they allege were examples of racism by the police department.

The complaint alleges that the two officers lost out on the assignments they wanted after their drug unit was disbanded.

It also says that Kennedy was racially profiled in a traffic stop by another officer, and describes another episode involving other minority officers who were allegedly told by a superior that the clothing they were wearing for undercover assignments made them look like "thugs and criminals."

"However," the complaint reads, the superior "never took issue with the clothing that white officers wore while working undercover, although the white officers wore biker-style clothing, western clothing, and even clothing such as Carhartts while working undercover."

The city's response claims that the two officers believed that they were entitled to operate within their drug unit "without supervision or direction, and refused to accept operational and administrative orders."

"When the ... unit was disbanded, normal everyday interactions were exaggerated and elevated into race issues," the city's response says. "However, plaintiffs have not been treated any differently at APD than any other officer is treated."

Both Kennedy and Feliciano retired from the police force, Wheeler said.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.


By NATHANIEL HERZ
nherz@adn.com