By Shavonne Potts
EAST SPENCER ó Lt. James Schmierer, the town’s interim police chief, has threatened to file a lawsuit over claims that several elected officials have kept him from advancing in the department because of his race.
A Feb. 19 letter from Schmierer’s attorney, Seth Cohen of Greensboro, alleges that at least three aldermen have actively sought to prevent Schmierer from becoming the town’s police chief and that one called him a “white bastard.”
The letter says the claims are based on the town’s “refusal to promote Lt. Schmierer to Chief of Police … as well as a pattern of harassment and creation of a hostile work environment based upon his race, i.e. caucasian.”
The town’s mayor and all of its aldermen are black. Schmierer is white.
Schmierer referred a Post reporter to his attorney.
“We look forward to discussing it with them,” Cohen said Monday morning.
Schmierer has been with the department since 2002. Through his attorney, Schmierer said he was passed over for promotion in December 2005, when the town hired Eric Williams, who is black, as chief of police.
In 2005, the letter alleges, Mayor Erma Jefferies told Schmierer that some board members refused to promote him because of his race.
Williams resigned from the department in June 2007. Since June, Schmierer has served as interim chief.
Schmierer has been performing the duties of chief, but hasn’t been promoted to the position and his salary has not been increased to reflect the position, the letter said.
“The sole reason that Lt. Schmierer has not been promoted is the fact that he is white,” the letter said.
According to the letter, Schmierer has never been disciplined and has had “nothing but positive reviews” during his employment.
The letter names three aldermen who Schmierer claims have “blocked” his appointment to chief solely because of his race: John L. Rustin, Theodore Gladden and Phronice Johnson.
The letter asserts that Rustin made blatantly racist comments about Schmierer and said the town wasn’t going to have a white police chief. It quotes Rustin as saying, “We can’t have our police department in the hands of that white bastard.”
The letter maintains that Schmierer, Jefferies, and “no doubt other individuals” heard the comment.
Schmierer also claims in the letter that when Gladden was running for election to the board in 2007, he said that he was going to “get rid of all the white police officers” in East Spencer, which has a largely black population.
Johnson, the letter alleges, suggested the board alter an evaluation of Schmierer done by Williams, the former chief, and that it be “falsified to state that Lt. Schmierer had a negative evaluation, so the Board of Aldermen could then fire Lt. Schmierer.”
The other board members refused to do that, the letter says.
“Ms. Johnson has also told Lt. Schmierer to his face that she did not like his ‘white attitude,’ ” the letter continues.
Gladden and Johnson declined to comment on the matter. Rustin called the allegations untrue, but said he didn’t want to comment further.
The letter says that Town Administrator Richard Hunter, “although aware that Lt. Schmierer is qualified for the job … and that he should be promoted, has failed to take the necessary steps to promote him because Mr. Hunter fears that he will be retaliated against by members of the town board.”
Hunter declined to comment.
When asked her impressions of the allegations, Jefferies said she believes “people’s perception is just that, their perception.”
Jefferies added Schmierer is still employed with the town and she said the Police Department is doing a good job.
“I look forward to this coming to an end where everybody is completely satisfied with the results,” she said.
Town officials are reviewing the complaint as they do all such matters, Jefferies said.
“The town will move forward as it always has,” she said.
In the letter, Schmierer’s attorney said aldermen should appoint his client the town’s chief of police at its next meeting, March 10.
It also claims that some officials are liable to Schmierer for lost wages, extreme humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress.
“Furthermore, those individuals who have interfered with Lt. Schmierer’s employment contract and have violated his civil rights, including but not limited to, Phronice Johnson, John Rustin, and Theodore Gladden, are also personally liable to Lt. Schmierer for both compensatory and punitive damages,” the letter says.
Although the letter does not name any other aldermen or elected officials, it states that “further investigation may very well determine that other elected and appointed Town officials are also personally liable to Lt. Schmierer.”
Cohen threatens in the letter to proceed with litigation if he’s not heard from town officials or an attorney representing the town within three days.
Cohen said Monday that although those three days have already passed, he still hopes to speak with the people involved prior to filing a suit.
The letter said Schmierer will seek additional monetary damages if town officials retaliate by firing him or further discriminating against him.
Cohen is an attorney with Smith, James, Rowlett & Cohen.
Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Shavonne Potts