Board of Selectmen: complaints of racial mistreatment

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 26, started at 7:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, read a statement about complaints of racial mistreatment lodged by staff of the fire and police departments. While expressing concerns over the issues, Mr. Wishinsky’s statement did not mention new efforts to address them.

Civil rights lawsuit: In a document filed at the federal court in Boston on the day of the meeting, the civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of firefighter Gerald Alston was joined by police officers Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun. Five other Brookline workers and residents–all alleging racial mistreatment–also joined: Cruz Sanabria, Juana Baez, Rogelio Rodas, Demetrius Oviedo and Deon Fincher.

The Brookline police officers rejected an offer of mediation made by Daniel O’Leary, Brookline’s chief of police, writing that “Racism cannot be mediated.” According to the officers, “The Chief and the Selectmen made promises regarding ‘zero tolerance’ for racism on the force, but we have experienced two separate occasions already where we reported these incidents and the perpetrators remain on the job, without consequence.”

The amended complaint in the lawsuit now names several Brookline staff alleged to have engaged in racial mistreatment, although it does not add them to the list of defendants. A central issue raised in the lawsuit remains an alleged “racist and unconstitutional policy” claimed to be “longstanding” in town government. Brookline’s Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission testified to the board on January 5 that the town government has “a culture of institutional racism” which “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.”

Some allegations can grow more chilling as one understands them better. For example, “Other police officers referred to [Mr. Zerai-Misgun] repeatedly as an FI, the police designation for a suspicious individual….” [Amended complaint, paragraph 18, p. 8] The abbreviation means a target of “field interrogation”–suggesting that an African-American may be targeted by race.

Complaints of racial mistreatment: An African-American member of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission has described, at a public meeting of the commission on December 16, how he was personally targeted. The commission meeting was attended by Bernard Greene, a member of the Board of Selectmen who is African-American. The amended complaint also recounts other incidents involving Mr. Greene.

“Following the meeting, Selectman Bernard Greene met with the Police Chief and other town officials to formulate a plan to discredit the officers’ allegations. Selectman Greene later executed that plan by sending a confidential e-mail to selected town residents…Selectman Greene intended for his e-mail to be confidentially distributed among a select group of politically active residents as part of a broader whispering campaign to discredit and smear the officers and their supporters.” [Amended complaint, paragraph 31, p. 13, and paragraph 38, p. 15]

These allegations sound at least as serious as ones directed at Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit. However, Mr. Greene has not been named as a defendant. The Brookline Department of Public Works and Office of Human Resources are implicated in other incidents described in the amended complaint.

“Deon Fincher was hired by the Town of Brookline as a laborer in 2009…Mr. Fincher was the only Black worker in [the] sanitation division…All the teams alternated between driving and collecting trash, except for one…On Mr. Fincher’s team, Mr. Fincher threw trash full time…In 2010, he injured his shoulder and required an operation…Mr. Fincher complained that the repetitive throwing motion was damaging his shoulder…The Town’s Human Resources director refused to assign Mr. Fincher another job…The head of the division…was hostile to Mr. Fincher when he attempted to assert his contractual rights. Mr. Johnson yelled at Mr. Fincher for requesting a union representative. White employees did not receive the same hostility.” [Amended complaint, paragraphs 87-96, pp. 29-31]

Sandra DeBow-Huang, director of the Office of Human Resources, has been named as a defendant in the civil rights lawsuit. Kevin Johnson, the highway, sanitation and fleet maintenance director in the Department of Public Works, has not been named as a defendant.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 27, 2016


Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, Racism cannot be mediated, statement to Brookline Board of Selectmen, January 26, 2016

Amended complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 26, 2016

Memorandum in support of partial motion to dismiss, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 12, 2016

Complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed December 1, 2015

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2016

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015

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