WASHINGTON — A federal jury has for the second time ruled in favor of five black District of Columbia police officers who said they were retaliated against after making allegations of racial discrimination against a supervisor.
The jury on Thursday awarded the officers $425,000 in damages, and a judge is expected to assign back pay and attorneys’ fees, said their lawyer, Jennifer Klar.
The officers, who had been members of a specialized vice crime unit, alleged they were singled out for transfer and demotion in 2006 after some of them wrote an anonymous letter accusing a white lieutenant of racial discrimination. The officers say the department set out to determine who wrote the letter and then required all members of the unit to reapply for their positions.
Four of the five officers reapplied but were not reassigned for the unit and were instead given “less desirable and less prestigious positions,” the lawsuit alleges. The fifth officer was transferred to a night shift in another unit despite requesting an assignment to a day shift.
Lawyers for the city have denied the retaliation allegations. The D.C. attorney general’s office said in a statement Friday that authorities were studying the trial record to see whether there were grounds for another appeal.
The verdict represented the second time that a jury had ruled in favor of the officers. The jury was asked to decide whether the officers had been retaliated against but not whether they had endured racial discrimination, Klar said.
A federal appeals court in February threw out a $900,000 verdict from the first trial in 2010 because of what it said were improper remarks from a plaintiff’s lawyer during closing arguments.
The case went to trial again this month. Among the witnesses was Assistant Chief Diane Groomes, who at the time was the commander of the district where the officers worked.
Klar claimed the police department gave myriad explanations for its conduct.
“I think the jury really understood what happened here, and their verdict makes clear that they weren’t buying the excuses that the district has continued to give for seven years,” she said.
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