East Spencer settles ex-officer’s discrimination lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Shavonne Potts
EAST SPENCER ó The town’s former interim police chief has reached a settlement with East Spencer officials, ending his federal discrimination lawsuit against the town.
Lt. James Schmierer brought the civil suit in March when he accused the town and four aldermen of racial discrimination. He asked for in excess of $500,000 in damages.
Schmierer’s attorney, Seth Cohen of Winston-Salem, said Tuesday that his client had settled his suit. Cohen said he did not feel comfortable releasing the details but suggested a reporter get the settlement from town officials as a matter of public record.
An updated phone listing for Schmierer was unavailable.
Although public agencies’ settlements of lawsuits are a public record under N.C. law, East Spencer officials could not provide details of the settlement Tuesday.
Reached at town offices Tuesday, Mayor Erma Jefferies said she did not have a copy of the settlement document and she did not offer any details.
Jefferies referred a reporter to the town’s representative, Concord attorney Gordon Belo, saying she did not have a copy. Belo said he did not represent the town in this matter.
He confirmed the town settled through its insurance with the N.C. League of Municipalities. Further questions were referred to Charlotte attorney Patrick Flanagan, of Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, who did not return a telephone call Wednesday.
Schmierer remains a reserve officer with the Police Department but is no longer a town employee, Mayor Jefferies said.
“He left to pursue bigger and better things,” Jefferies said.
Court records show the case was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice in mid-June, meaning Schmierer cannot file another suit claiming discrimination, Cohen explained.
The lawsuit claimed that several elected officials kept Schmierer, who is white, from advancing in the department because of his race.
A month before filing the suit, Cohen sent a letter to the town, mayor, aldermen and town administrator.
In the letter, Cohen said Town Administrator Richard Hunter had the authority to promote the officer. The letter also said aldermen John L. Rustin, Theodore Gladden and Phronice Johnson “blocked” Schmierer’s appointment as chief solely because of his race.
The suit said Schmierer was passed over for promotion in December 2005, when the town hired Eric Williams, who is black, as chief. Williams resigned as chief in June 2007. Since then, and at the time of his suit, Schmierer served as interim chief.
Cohen’s letter was addressed to all six of the aldermen, the mayor and town administrator.
However, the suit specifically named the town, Hunter and aldermen Rustin, Gladden, Johnson and Carlton Ellis as defendants.