Justice Department sues Puerto Rico police, alleging racial bias

Story highlights

  • The suit says the PRPD discriminated against a female officer for 3 years
  • It says a co-worker used slurs disparaging her race, color, and religion
  • The Justice Department seeks monetary damages and corrective action
  • The department and Puerto Rico signed a deal last week to reform the troubled force
The U.S. Justice Department said Monday it is suing Puerto Rico's police department for discrimination, alleging a female officer suffered three years of harassment for her race, color and religion.
The allegations are the latest in a series of claims against the commonwealth's troubled police force, and they follow an agreement last week between the Justice Department and Puerto Rico to reform the island's 17,000-strong force.
The suit alleges the PRPD, the nation's second-largest police department, subjected officer Yolanda Carrasquillo to verbal harassment from 2007 to 2010, violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
It says a civilian co-worker "regularly used racial and other offensive slurs directed towards Carrasquillo, and other black or dark-skinned employees, that disparaged her race, color and Christian faith." The verbal abuse happened daily and was often in front of police supervisors, the suit says.
Carrasquillo made numerous complaints to her supervisors, but the department never took any meaningful steps to stop the harassment or discipline the person responsible, the Justice Department said. The department failed to follow its own anti-harassment policy that requires supervisors to prevent and stop discriminatory behavior after they become aware of it, the suit says.
CNN reached the spokeswoman for the police department's superintendent, who said she would call back if he was able to make a comment. There was no reply by late Monday.
The Justice Department's lawsuit seeks monetary damages for Carrasquillo and asks the PRPD to develop and implement policies that would prevent employees from being subjected to harassment on the basis of race, color or religion.
Carrasquillo originally filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which referred the matter to the Justice Department.
"Public employers should set an example for others by upholding the law and taking prompt and effective action to stop discriminatory harassment," said Jocelyn Samuels, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the department's Civil Rights Division.
Last week, the Justice Department and Puerto Rico signed a major civil rights agreement to fix a pattern of police misconduct by the PRPD, mostly relating to the department's interaction with the public. It is pending final approval by a federal judge.
The pact covers 11 core areas including use of force, searches and seizures, equal protection, civilian complaints, training and supervision. An earlier Justice Department investigation uncovered evidence that officers failed to adequately investigate sexual assault and domestic violence allegations.