Two white Columbus police officers sue city, claim reverse discrimination in promotional practices

Two white Columbus police officers have filed a federal reverse discrimination suit against the city, mayor, police chief, and human resources director claiming discriminatory promotional practices.

Lt. Ralph Dowe and Lt. Tony Litle filed the suit Monday in U.S. District Court, Middle District of Georgia challenging the city’s Affirmative Action program. Mayor Skip Henderson, Police Chief Freddie Blackmon, and Human Resources Director Reather Hollowell are named in the suit.

“… Plaintiffs allege that Chief Blackmon discriminated against them by denying them promotions in seeking to achieve and maintain a predetermined racial and gender balance,” the suit alleges. “Plaintiffs bring claims of race and gender discrimination pursuant to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Dowe and Litle are both long-term employees of the police department. Dowe started on July 10, 1989, while Lilte was hired on Jan. 14, 1994. Dowe was promoted to lieutenant in March 2013 and Litle obtained the rank in November 2014. Both men were promoted under former Chief Ricky Boren.

Blackmon, who is black, replaced Boren as chief in November 2020, not long after Boren’s retirement.

Here are the allegations as outlined in the suit:

Instead of promoting those already eligible for command staff positions, Blackmon lowered the qualifications for the command staff positions by lowering educational and time-in-rank requirements.

This impacted Dowe and Litle because men had obtained master’s degrees.

On December 30, 2020, Blackmon made various promotions across the department but did not promote Dowe or Litle even though they were eligible.

Blackmon promoted Capt. Joyce Dent-Fitzpatrick, a black woman, and Capt. Debra Kennedy, a white woman, to the assistant chief positions. Previously, there had been only one assistant chief.

“By promoting Dent-Fitzpatrick and Kennedy, Blackmon named the first two female Assistant Chiefs in CCG’s history, and to achieve a racial balance,” the suit claims.

Positions that were previously called “majors” were renamed “deputy chiefs.”

Blackmon promoted four men to Deputy Chief: Lieutenant Lance Deaton, a white man; Lieutenant Roderick Graham, a black man; Captain Thomas Dent, a white man; and Captain Roland Hastings, a white man.

Blackmon promoted Lt. Consuelo Askew, a black woman; Lt. David Blackstock, a white man; Lt. Kevin Hamer, a white man; and Lt. Gregory Touchberry, a white man, to captain.

“In so doing, Blackmon promoted every black lieutenant eligible for a promotion (Graham and Askew),” the suit claims. “Likewise, Blackmon promoted every female captain and lieutenant eligible for a promotion (Dent-Fitzpatrick, Kennedy, and Askew).”

This suit comes as the Fraternal Order of Police has expressed a lack of confidence in Blackmon’s leadership. Dowe, in his role as president of the FOP, presented findings from a survey of members to Columbus Council last month.

Dowe’s dispute with the city over the hiring practices began on May 4, 2021, when he filed his charge of discrimination with the city. Dowe received his notice of right to Sue on Feb. 4, 2022.

He addressed Columbus Council with the FOP concerns about Blackmon’s leadership on Feb. 22.

Dowe and Litle are being represented by the Decatur, Ga., firm of Legare, Attwood & Wolfe. The lead counsel is Eleanor M. Attwood.

Atwood did not immediately return a call from News 3 seeking comment.

The city is being defended by Page, Scrantom, Sprouse, Tucker & Ford, P.C. of Columbus. Jim Clark and Carter Schondelmayer are representing the city and the officials named in the suit. Contacted by WRBL, they said they would have a statement later in the morning.

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