The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 14, 2013

Settlement reached in Sophia discrimination case

A former Sophia police officer who alleged that he was discriminated against while performing his duties has been awarded a settlement of $600,000 from the town’s insurance company.

Damon McDowell, 44, was employed as an officer for the Town of Sophia from October 2011 until he was fired by his supervisor, then Sophia Police Chief Tomi Peck, in March 2012. During that time, McDowell was the only African-American officer. In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court, he alleged that fellow officers placed pictures of monkeys on the department bulletin board, with the caption “I talk like a monkey.” The suit alleged that they also joked about if McDowell was from “One Foty-Fo Magnolia Street,” drew male anatomical pictures on McDowell’s court papers and hid the papers so that he would miss hearings. It was also alleged that they played the theme song from the 1970’s sitcom “Sanford and Son” over their police radios.  McDowell also alleged that fellow officers created a fake memorandum from the Raleigh County Emergency Operations Center that reported new phonetic words would be used in making radio calls. McDowell used the words from the fake memo on at least one occasion, the suit reported.

He alleged that Peck, who resigned from the position and now serves as a Raleigh County magistrate, knew about the taunting and didn’t address it. Other town officials also knew, according to the suit. The suit stated that once he’d reported the harassment to Peck, she began to look for ways to fire him.  On one occasion, he said, she accused him of drawing his weapon without justification and asked him to resign. He refused to resign without an internal investigation, so Peck suspended him, the suit read. He was allowed by Peck to take a polygraph but was asked in the polygraph about stealing jewelry from a DUI suspect, according to the suit. Two white officers present during the stop were never questioned and were not required to take a polygraph, the suit read.

He was also questioned about making an inappropriate offer to a woman during a traffic stop then allegedly tearing up the ticket, but he was able to show a copy of the ticket, he alleged.

The suit also mentioned at least two claims of alleged misconduct by against McDowell by Beckley Police.

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