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Michigan Officer Who Discovered He Has African Ancestry Sues City, Police Chief Over Racism

Hastings Police Sgt. Cleon Brown claims he was subjected to racist taunts after revealing the results of his Ancestry DNA test. (Image courtesy of the Hastings Police Department.)

A Michigan cop is suing his chief and the city after he says he was subjected to racist taunts by fellow officers following a genetic test that traced 18 percent of his DNA back to Africa.

Sgt. Cleon Brown was surprised to learn of his African roots through an DNA test but was even more surprised at how fellow officers at the Hastings Police Department reacted to the news.

Brown claims the police chief called him “Kunta,” after the main character of Alex Haley’s 1976 novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” while other cops whispered “Black lives matter” and pumped their fists as they walked past him, MLive reported. City Mayor Frank Campbell, who retired in January, also launched racist insults, the officer said.

“There was an instance where my client was talking to the mayor, and the mayor ― upon learning that my client was 18 percent African-American ― proceeded to tell him a racist joke” using the word “Negroid” multiple times, attorney Karie Boylan, who filed the suit on Brown’s behalf, told CBS Detroit.

To make matters worse, Brown said the department hung stockings with the name of each officer at Christmas; a Black Santa Claus doll with “18 percent” scribbled on its white beard was placed in his stocking.

Now, Brown is suing the City of Hastings and four officials, accusing them of state and federal civil rights violations, as well as violations of the state’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, Mlive reported. The officer also is alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress by defendants Deputy Chief Dale Boulter, City Manager Jeff Mansfield, Sgt. Kris Miller and Police Chief Jeff Pratt.

He is suing for $500,000.

The city has since denied any wrongdoing, placing the blame on Brown, who it claims started the racist “joking and banter.”

“Sgt. Brown, in a very joking and jovial manner, informed several of his fellow officers that he had recently taken a DNA test through and the results showed that he was 18 percent African-American,” city officials said in a statement. “[Brown] joked about the other results of the test and there was some discussion about the accuracy of the test results.”

The city did ‘fess up to the “Black Santa” incident but said the officer who placed the item in Brown’s stocking had apologized. The city contends that Brown was unbothered by the joke, claiming the officer “told the chief he wasn’t upset and that he was proud of his African heritage.” The statement went on to say that Chief Pratt made it clear to the other officers that jokes about Brown’s heritage wouldn’t be tolerated.

While city officials say they’ve responded swiftly and appropriately to the matter, Boylan said no investigations have been started. In addition to an investigation, Boylan has suggested Hastings provide better racial sensitivity training for officers.


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