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Black officers say racism was rampant at UW Police. Trial starts Monday in Seattle

caption: A University of Washington police officer on campus.
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A University of Washington police officer on campus.

A jury trial is scheduled to begin Monday in a case involving dozens of claims of racial discrimination at the University of Washington Police Department. Five Black officers filed the lawsuit two years ago, claiming that racism in the department was pervasive. Four of the officers have since left the agency.

In the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court, the five officers said while working at the University of Washington Police Department, they experienced widespread acts of racial harassment and discrimination, including use of racial slurs, racist stereotypes, physical intimidation, and preferential treatment of white officers.

“They are alleging that they were subjected to a hostile work environment based on race, gender and sexual orientation," said Attorney Toby Marshall, who represents the plaintiffs. "They’re also alleging that they were retaliated against for speaking up.”

Marshall said the evidence in the case would show that the incidents of racism in the UW Police Department started to ramp up around the time of George Floyd's murder and the nationwide protests that followed.

In court filings, one Black officer said he overheard a white colleague say that Floyd’s “Black ass got what he deserved.”

One plaintiff said the brake line in his vehicle was cut after the lawsuit was filed, while another officer said someone “fired some kind of gun at his home, putting a hole through a window and shattering it.”

In a statement after the officers' claims totaling $8 million were filed in 2021, UW President Ana Mari Cauce said none of these allegations of discrimination were ever reported to university leadership.

“They were not reported through union representatives, and they did not surface during an independent review of the department in 2019,” Cauce said.

But Cauce added that if the allegations were proven, there would be serious consequences.

A university spokesperson reiterated these points in a recent statement, saying, "The University of Washington is committed to provide a safe, secure and welcoming working environment for all staff. The acts of racism alleged are deeply disturbing and counter to the UW’s commitment to fostering a diverse, inclusive and equitable community."

It continued, "While the University is limited in what it can share while litigation is in progress, we can firmly state that a review of the department in 2019 did not reveal racism but other issues surfaced, leading to changes including new UWPD leadership. UWPD has a new Chief of Police and a leadership team focused on mission-driven service, building meaningful relationships with the communities UWPD serves, ongoing training and ensuring the department lives up to its values of professionalism, respect, integrity, diversity and excellence."

Marshall said four of the plaintiffs have left the profession of law enforcement entirely and need retraining for other jobs.

He said under the state’s anti-discrimination law, they will ask the jury to award damages “for the pain and suffering that they’ve gone through.”

King County Superior Court Judge Wyman Yip is presiding over the trial, which is scheduled to last through mid-December.

Update 10/23/2023: This article has been updated with a response from the University of Washington.

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