Former SLU police chief sues over alleged racial discrimination

The former chief of the Southeastern Louisiana University Police Department and a current employee, both white, are suing a black officer and a black university administrator over alleged racial discrimination and harassment in the department.

Former SLU Police Chief Michael Prescott and current Capt. Mike McGill say they were forced to hire Angela Jones, a black candidate for a police officer position, over Donald Freeman, a white candidate who was deemed more qualified for the job.

Prescott and McGill, in separate lawsuits, say Jones created a hostile work environment by repeatedly calling white supervisors racist and routinely going straight to Marvin Yates, the school’s vice president for student affairs, to make complaints.

The two also accuse Jones and Yates, who also is black, of conspiring to retaliate against them for complaining about Jones’ behavior.

Prescott’s suit was filed Monday in the U.S. Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans. McGill’s was filed in June.

The lawsuits name as defendants Jones, Yates and the University of Louisiana System’s board of supervisors, which oversees SLU.

Erin Cowser, the university’s executive director of public and governmental affairs, said university officials dispute the claims made by Prescott and McGill. He said university officials would have no further comment because of the ongoing litigation.

Gregory Fahrenholt, a special assistant attorney general representing the university in the case, has moved to have McGill’s suit dismissed.

No response has been filed yet in Prescott’s suit. Fahrenholt declined comment Tuesday when reached by email.

Prescott and McGill chose Freeman over Jones in January 2012 because Freeman had extensive law enforcement experience while Jones, a university parking guard, had none, the lawsuits say.

Jones went to Yates after she was not chosen, saying she was being discriminated against.

Yates ordered Prescott and McGill to hire Jones, saying it would be better for the department to promote from within and would end Jones’ grievance process.

“His stated reasons to Prescott were, ‘You don’t want a black female mad at you,’ ” Prescott’s suit says.

The lawsuits say Jones repeatedly made derogatory statements about McGill, Prescott and other white employees in the Police Department after she was hired.

“She verbally and physically threated (sic) her superiors on an almost daily basis and helped bring about racial polarization on the Southeastern (Louisiana) University campus,” Prescott’s suit says.

White students began complaining about outrageous behavior from Jones, who let black students park where they wanted, McGill’s lawsuit says.

Jones filed at least 25 separate complaints with the university against her supervisors or fellow officers, said Hugh Exnicios, McGill’s attorney.

Exnicios said Yates repeatedly declined McGill and Prescott’s requests to have Jones’ behavior investigated.

Jones also submitted a complaint to the NCAA saying Prescott fixed tickets for student-athletes, Prescott’s lawsuit says.

The NCAA later deemed that claim unfounded.

Prescott met with school officials in July 2012 about the complaints Jones had filed against him and Yates then pressured Prescott to resign, Prescott’s lawsuit says.

Prescott wants the court to force the UL System’s board of supervisors to rehire him retroactive to August 2012.

He also seeks damages.

McGill alleges he was passed over as interim chief while on medical leave for a July 2012 knee replacement because Jones and Yates were retaliating against McGill’s protests of Jones’ behavior.

McGill, who is 62, says in his suit he also was discriminated against because he is perceived as old and disabled. McGill wants the board to compensate him as interim police chief retroactively to July 2012.

Fahrenholt, the board of supervisors’ attorney, says in his motion to dismiss McGill’s suit that such claims against the board are not allowed.

He said the state has sovereign immunity under the U.S. Constitution and can’t be sued in federal court for money damages or injunctive relief, unless the state chooses to waive immunity from prosecution.

Fahrenholt says further the claims against Jones under the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Act, as well as complaints against Yates under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, must be dismissed because Jones and Yates are not McGill’s employer.

Exnicios said Jones’ current supervisor, Sgt. Kevin Knudsen, plans to file suit in the coming days.

Dennis Ellzey, a white former parking officer in the department, alleges in a separate suit filed in the 19th Judicial District in Baton Rouge that he retired because he could no longer take Jones’ constant harassment, Exnicios said.

Milas Love, a university employee, alleges in the 19th Judicial District that Yates demoted him from the university’s director of judicial affairs to a research assistant position after Love, a lighter-skinned black male, complained about Yates favoring black students in disciplinary matters.

Prescott, McGill, Knudsen, Ellzey and Love have all filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints against the university, Exnicios said.