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A black woman officer was improperly fired from the New York City Police Department in retaliation for her public comments alleging racially discriminatory policies in the department’s Street Crimes Unit, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled Monday. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, ruling at the close of a four-day bench trial held in July, said Monday that Officer Yvette Walton suffered retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights at a public demonstration and a New York City Council hearing in the wake of the Amadou Diallo shooting. The judge’s decision finding New York City liable in Walton v. Safir, 99 Civ. 4430, paves the way for a finding of damages and other possible remedies. After Walton sued the City for her dismissal in April 1999, the police department claimed the reason for her termination was her repeated violation of departmental orders regulating sick leave. Walton was a six-year veteran when she became the only black woman assigned to street patrols with the Street Crimes Unit (SCU) in 1993. Believing that the SCU targeted minorities in search and seizure operations, she transferred out of the SCU almost two years later. In the aftermath of the shooting death of Amadou Diallo by four members of the SCU in February 1999, Walton addressed the group “100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care” during a press conference aired on several television stations. Although Walton was in disguise, and her voice was electronically altered, a reporter introduced her as former Street Crimes Unit officer. On Feb. 19, 1999, she appeared on a national television news program to discuss the SCU and, two months later, on April 19, she testified, again in disguise, immediately after then-Police Commissioner Howard Safir before the City Council. At the close of the testimony, Walton called a sergeant on duty and was told she was dismissed from the department effective immediately. ALLEGED INFRACTIONS The police department said the dismissal came at the end of a series of infractions committed by Walton that culminated in an administrative trial and a finding of insubordination. While on sick leave recovering from injuries suffered in the line of duty, Walton allegedly left her residence for unauthorized purposes and responded late to “green cards,” which are cards left by medical division officers who visit the home to check on sick officers. It was also charged that she failed to sign out after visiting a surgeon’s office for post-surgical care of injured tendons in her hand. The trial ended with Walton being placed on dismissal probation, a status that Safir described as giving the department the right to fire based simply on the filing of an additional charge and without a hearing. But Judge Hellerstein found that the “procedures followed by defendants in dismissing Walton were not consistent with the City’s Administrative regulations and the Police Department’s written directives.” While the City claimed police officials were unaware of the identity of the speaker at the February press conference, Hellerstein disagreed, finding the assertion “not credible.” He said that “the Police Department knew that it was Walton who was the spokesperson for 100 Blacks criticizing the SCU for employing discriminatory policies that led to the killing of Amadou Diallo.” Walton was the only African-American actually on patrol duty, the judge said, and the 100 Blacks organization and its co-founder, Eric Adams, were being investigated at the time of the press conference by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. Similarly, he said, the department would have no problem discovering that Walton was the officer who testified before the City Council. EFFECTIVE OFFICER Hellerstein went on to find that Walton was an effective police officer who had been commended several times. “The New York Police Department has had a strong policy to recruit African-American officers,” he said. “Yet, notwithstanding its policy, it dismissed Walton, an experienced and able 12-year veteran summarily, without a hearing, and inconsistently with applicable regulations and its own practices.” Normally, he added, “overstaying doctors’ visits” before returning home would be considered the type of “minor infraction” that would have led to discipline, but “not dismissal, even of an officer in probationary status.” Christopher Dunn and Norman Siegel of the New York Civil Liberties Union represented Walton. Assistant Corporation Counsels Norma A. Cote, Andrea Moss and James Lemonedes represented New York City.

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