Mario Williams (Photo: John Disney/ALM) Mario Williams (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

A 27-year veteran of the Atlanta Police Department wants a federal judge to suspend a command staff promotion policy that he claims is governed by race.

Atlanta attorney Mario Williams moved Monday for a temporary restraining order on behalf of Lt. Terry Joyner. The TRO, if granted, would suspend what Williams’ motion describes as a “white in, white out” and “black in, black out” policy that he claims the department adopted during the tenure of former Chief Richard Pennington and that has remained in place since 2002.

The TRO motion and a companion complaint names the city and Police Chief Erika Shields as defendants. The case has been assigned to Chief Judge Thomas Thrash Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

The promotion policy at issue allegedly requires the two-person supervisory teams in each of the city’s six zones include a white and a black commander—one a captain and one a major. When zone captains and majors are replaced, the police department allegedly requires that the vacant post be filled by a candidate of the same race, the TRO motion contends.

“If the captain is black, the major must be white (and vice versa),” the motion says. “This means that [the] defendants’ policy unconditionally excludes white lieutenants from [three] captain positions and [three] major positions because those [six] positions are held by African-Americans. … African-American lieutenants are excluded from [three] captain positions and [three] major positions because those positions are held by Caucasians.”

Williams’ motion said that “another pernicious effect” of the policy limiting zone command positions to black and white officers is the exclusion of Latino and Asian officers who might otherwise be eligible.

Williams’ motion branded the policy “an unconstitutional quota system.”

“Remedying past societal discrimination does not justify race-exclusive government policies,” the motion contends.

In making the case for a TRO, Williams cited deposition testimony from former Police Chief George Turner—now the city’s public safety commissioner—and from former Deputy Chief Ernest Finley, now the police chief in Montgomery, Alabama. The motion called Turner “this policy’s staunchest advocate,” adding that the commissioner believes it is both justified and legal. From 2010 through 2016, captains and majors that Turner appointed to supervise the zones were the same race as the outgoing captains and majors they replaced, the motion contends.

The TRO’s companion complaint includes photographs illustrating the black-white teams assigned to each zone for multiple years during which Joyner said he was excluded from a captain’s post in his zone because he is white.

Williams said Joyner “is taking a stance for all APD officers in hopes of eradicating a long-standing policy that disrespects every notion of advancing within law enforcement ranks based on merit.”

“Given the fact that advancing to the position of captain or higher is not governed by one policy or procedure, including the fact that no APD officers can even apply for these positions and none of the positions are even announced—I’m calling on our mayor to not only abolish racial discrimination within APD but to also implement a procedure that has as its core basis: transparency,” he said.

Representatives from City Hall and the police department did not respond to a request for comment.

The TRO and the new complaint sprang from a federal lawsuit Joyner filed against Turner, Finley and a third police officer, Van Horn, in 2016. Joyner, 50, is the son of Roswell’s former police chief and city councilman Terry L. Joyner. His commendations during his 27-year career include the Meritorious Service Award, the Peace Officer of the Year award, the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Valor.

Joyner was on “a promotional fast track” with three promotions in six years when he complained about the department’s allegedly race-based policy, according to court filings. At the time, Joyner—who is white—was up for an appointment to captain, but the captain in his zone was black.

Because of the policy, Joyner was ineligible for three of the six zone captain slots solely because he is white, the suit contended. Joyner claimed that a black lieutenant was promoted to captain instead of him.

Joyner alleged that, once he complained about the racially discriminatory policy and then “blew the whistle” on reported ticket-fixing and other alleged violations of police policies to the FBI, the city attorney and the department’s internal affairs division, he was denied 13 subsequent promotions. His suit also claimed his pay was reduced and he was stripped of the privilege of working “flex time.”

The city moved to dismiss the case against the officers, arguing that Joyner had failed to show any connection between his complaints and his subsequent inability to secure a promotion to captain.

City attorneys claimed that Joyner’s allegation of race-based discrimination was “conclusory” and lacked facts to support the claim.