Federal Discrimination Suit Filed Against Fort Smith Police Department

Dec 1, 2015

A discrimination/retaliation lawsuit filed Monday against the Fort Smith Police Department notes that the department has not promoted a black officer since 1988 and has not hired a black officer since 1995.

The lawsuit was filed by Matthew Campbell on behalf of his client, Wendall Sampson Jr., in the U.S. District Court of Western Arkansas. Sampson is African American, and the lawsuit alleges discrimination in employment and promotion. For his client, Campbell “seeks full back pay as the result of the discriminatory failure to promote Plaintiff and his subsequent demotion/transfer, …”

Further, the lawsuit alleges that Sampson is a “victim of racial discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.”

In addition to Fort Smith Police Chief Kevin Lindsey and other certain officers of the Fort Smith Police Department, the lawsuits lists as defendants former City Administrator Ray Gosack, and attorneys Rick Wade and Colby Roe with the law firm of Daily & Woods.

According to the complaint, Sampson was hired by the department on Sept. 25, 1995, and is only the 10th black officer hired by the department in its history.

“In over twenty years since Plaintiff was hired, the FSPD has not hired another African-American  officer, despite multiple African-American candidates’ applying and meeting the necessary qualifications for being hired,” Campbell noted in the suit.

When questioned about the department’s history of attempting to hire or promote black officers, Campbell providing the following statement to Talk Business & Politics: “We don’t know the exact number of African-American applicants in the last two decades, but that will certainly come out in discovery. We do know of at least two recent applicants who passed the objective portions of the application process, but somehow failed other, subjective portions.”

The 27-page filing list several areas in which alleged actions by Sampson were handled with investigations, but similar actions by white officers were not subject to investigation. One of those were related to discussions posted on Facebook. Another issue dealt with different treatment on allegations related to submitting erroneous police reports. Campbell noted in the filing that Sampson “was treated differently as compared to similarly situated white employees and was investigated and disciplined for actions for which white employees were not even investigated.”

Campbell is asking for a jury trial.

“As a direct and proximate cause of Defendants’ acts and omissions alleged herein, Plaintiff has suffered several mental and emotional distress, lost wages, lost fringe benefits, has been stigmatized in the community, and incurred other damages in an amount to be proven at trial,” noted the lawsuit.

This is not the first lawsuit filed against the FSPD by Campbell on behalf of Sampson. Several rounds of litigation, some ongoing, involve a complex whistle blower case in which Campbell’s clients – to include former FSPD officers Don Paul Bales and Addisen Entmeier – were wrongfully dismissed from the department. After a two-day hearing held by the Fort Smith Civil Service Commission in November 2014, the five-member commission upheld the disciplinary actions of Lindsey related to Sampson, Bales and Entmeier.

Sampson also in October 2013 filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asserting discrimination at the FSPD.

Talk Business & Politics plans to follow up with the FSPD to provide more clarity to its minority hiring history.