Brookline Officers Join Federal Lawsuit Alleging Racism Against Town

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Two Brookline police officers have joined with six other plaintiffs in a federal class action suit alleging racism against the town.

The eight plaintiffs are suing the town and the Board of Selectmen, saying their First and 14th Amendment constitutional rights have been violated, and they're seeking reforms. The 85-page filing lays out allegations of widespread racism and cronyism in the town of Brookline.

"The town has a set of rules for white people, and a set of rules for everybody else," said attorney Brooks Ames, who is representing the plaintiffs as they seek damages and reform.

Ames announced the action Tuesday night in the Town Hall lobby, surrounded by some 80 supporters, as selectmen held their regular meeting upstairs.

Those suing include two black police officers, Estifanos Zerai-Misgun and Prentice Pilot. The officers have refused to return to work since December, after they came forward with allegations of racist treatment at the hands of fellow officers.

"I don't believe that the town has a zero tolerance policy," Ames said. "I believe that the policies that are on paper are worthless, that they are ignored, that they are purely for show. They're window dressing. At this point, I don't need to have the policy explained to me; I already know what it is. The policy is that you get to call someone the 'n word' if you're white."

Named in the complaint is Board of Selectmen Chair Neil Wishinsky. Wishinsky said after the meeting that he'd only had a chance to skim through the new court filing, but he said he's disappointed the police officers rejected the town's efforts to mediate.

"I was hoping that we would be able to engage in mediation and hear the officers' concerns and try to address them in a constructive way," Wishinsky said.

The argument filed in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts adds seven plaintiffs to a suit brought against the town last month by African-American firefighter Gerald Alston. Alston said he was called a racial slur by a white firefighter in 2010, and that the town retaliated against him for bringing it to light.

Asked to respond to the new claims, Wishinsky noted that they are part of "an amendment to a previous complaint where there's a motion to dismiss, so I'd encourage you to read that."

In that motion, the town lays out its case against Alston.

"[The complaint] reiterates a 2010 slur by [Alston's] supervisor that he had unsuccessfully litigated twice previously, once at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and then in Superior Court, and which is long since time-barred," the motion reads.

The town's motion also implies that attorney Ames has a hidden agenda, dating back to a dispute when he was on Brookline's human relations and youth resources commission.

It adds that the complaint "appears to largely be a continuation of a policy campaign begun several years ago by plaintiff’s counsel Brooks Ames regarding the proper role of the town’s ... human relations commission while he was a town official on that body."

In addition to Alston and the two policemen, the suit names three plaintiffs who say they were harassed because they are Hispanic: Juana Baez, Rogelio Rodas and Cruz Sanabria.

The suit includes a complaint from Deon Fincher, a town sanitation worker who said he was treated with hostility after sustaining an injury on the job. Another plaintiff, town resident Demetrius Oviedo, claims he was unfairly passed over for a firefighter position.

Attorney Ames said the eight plaintiffs want the court to order the town to reform its policies.

"The federal court has the power to say Brookline, you have to stop the way you're doing business, because it's unconstitutional," he said.

The plaintiffs are also demanding monetary damages for those they say were harmed by the town's policies.

This segment aired on January 27, 2016.


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Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.



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