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San Diego police sergeant sues over racist cartoon shown during training session

On Behalf of | Jan 22, 2015 | Firm News |

This honestly suprises me.  The San Diego City Attorney, SDPD, and other city entities usually has such a fluid system that issues like this do not occur.  I cannot believe this was not found earlier.  Someone internally is going to be accountable for this.

The wagons will be circled and the city will stand behind the many barriers afforded to agencies.  Those people behind the scenes need to be admonished at the minimum.  It is sad that changes have to be made due to lawsuits.  Some people stand behind progress while others get dragged in the new century kicking and screaming.


A San Diego police sergeant says a recent training session featured a racist cartoon and now he’s suing the police department.

The cartoon was shown at a training event for some of the top brass — at a class for sergeants and lieutenants.

Sgt. Arthur Scott, a 10-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, says he tried to speak out against the cartoon, but was transferred to a different division as a result.

The lawsuit states the cartoon in question, which is from the early 1900s, was used to reference Officer Frank McCarter, the first black San Diego police officer.

Some say the cartoon is highly offensive because it shows McCarter as a monkey. The cartoon also includes derogatory comments about Asians.

“This is so over the top racist,” Scott’s attorney, Dan Gilleon, said.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said the image should be in our story so people can see what happened in a training class with police leaders.


“If it’s OK to do that for training officers, we can’t possibly be moving forward,” said Dr. Andre Branch, the president of the San Diego Chapter of the NAACP.

“I’m surprised that the police department did not take action sooner,” said Asian American community member Linda Le. “We have to be more mindful in terms of implementing cultural sensitivity and awareness into the training for all government officials.”

Scott claims in the lawsuit that when he complained about the cartoon being showed during the training, he was transferred out of the Southeastern Division, something he did not want.

Scott is the vice president of the San Diego Black Police Officers’ Association and has spoken out before. The lawsuit states that in 2011 when Scott complained about racist images of President Barack Obama in some officers’ lockers, a lieutenant said he was being “hyper sensitive.”

And this isn’t the first time the department has been accused of racism. Last year, sources said officers complained because there were “too many black faces” on a mural inside San Diego’s Southeastern Division Station.

The San Diego City Attorney’s Office issued this statement:

“As lawyers for the city, our deputies will review the claim with the Administration and the officers as to what occurred and then defend the city as lawyers are supposed to do. Other than that, our office has no further comment.”

We reached out to the San Diego Police Department and received the following response from Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman:

“We were just made aware of the pending lawsuit this afternoon. We take these allegations very seriously. We will fully cooperate and support any and all investigations into this matter. At this time, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further on this case since it is in litigation.”

The office of City Councilwoman Myrtle Cole issued this statement early Wednesday evening:

“I immediately called Chief Shelley Zimmerman when I heard about the racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a San Diego police sergeant alleging he was the victim of a hostile work environment, retaliation and harassment. The sergeant states this all stemmed from him voicing his concerns over an inflammatory photo shown during mandatory training that depicted the first San Diego black police officer, Frank McCarter, in an ape-like caricature.

As a former police lieutenant, I condemn the usage of that photo in any type of official San Diego Police Department Training. I understand that the photo has since been removed from all training materials. We take these allegations very seriously. I will keep a watchful eye over this investigation and pending litigation.”

The full article can be found here.


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San Diego’s City Charter is the “Constitution” of the City-our highest legal authority in the City. Section 40 and 40.1 of the City Charter (PDF) explain the role of the City Attorney:

“The City Attorney shall be the chief legal adviser of, and attorney for the City and all Departments and offices thereof in matters relating to their official powers and duties… It shall be the City Attorney’s duty, either personally or by such assistants as he or she may designate, to perform all services incident to the legal department; to give advice in writing when so requested, to the Council, its Committees, the Manager, the Commissions, or Directors of any department [and] to prosecute or defend, as the case may be, all suits or cases to which the City may be a party…”

“The City Attorney shall…prosecute persons charged with or guilty of the violations of the state laws occurring within the city limits of The City of San Diego for offenses constituting misdemeanors.”

Under the Charter, the City Attorney has three distinct roles:

  • Advisory – We provide advice to the City and each of its departments, including the City Council and Mayor.
  • Civil Litigation – We prosecute or defend, as the case may be, civil lawsuits in which the City is a party.
  • Criminal – We prosecute criminal misdemeanors and infractions committed within the City limits and in Poway.


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