Federal judge won't dismiss suit against Coatesville

A federal judge has rejected the city of Coatesville’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by a city police officer who contends that he has suffered racial discrimination brought about by polices endorsed by the former chief, Julius Canale.

In a six-page opinion issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III ruled that the city had failed to convince him that there insufficient reason for the suit filed in June by Corporal Larry Cooper to proceed.

The city had contended that the suit should be dismissed because Cooper, who was hired by the city in 1996 and promoted to his current rank in 2002, before Canale was appointed to the position of chief, did not go through the department’s grievance procedure with his complaints of a policy of racial bias.

Cooper, who is black, has said in his suit that Canale permitted a hostile work environment for minorities, and passed him over for promotion because of his race. Cooper is the only black officer in the department with any rank.

“We find the (city’s) argument unpersuasive,” Bartle wrote in his opinion. “Whether or not (Cooper) went through the internal Police Department grievance procedures, he has sufficiently pleaded the existence of a policy or custom of discrimination within the department.”

Bartle’s order does not, however, address the substantive allegations made by Cooper in his lawsuit. It instead deals with procedural issues. At this stage of the proceeding, he is required by court rules to view Cooper’s allegations in the light most favorable to him, and not the city or Canale.

The city was able to convince Bartle to dismiss one of the claims against Canale, saying that Cooper had failed to properly allege violations of one section of the federal civil rights law dealing with claims against municipalities. However, it allowed Cooper to proceed aganst Canale on other civil rights claims, and upheld his action against the city itself.

Attorney Brian Mildenberg of Philadelphia, who is representing Cooper in the action, said the suit would now move into the discovery phase, and that with any luck it could be resolved within the year.

“Mr. Cooper is pleased with the judge’s opinion,” he said Friday.

Attorneys representing the city and Canale could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit, in addition to saying that Cooper had been passed over for promotion or special assignment despite his experience and seniority, also alleges Canale was part of a cover-up of an internal investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by five officers in 2006. The officers and a relative of one of the officers are now known as the “Dirty Half Dozen.”

The suit claims that about 2007 the department investigated allegations that two officers had unwanted sexual relations with a woman. Three other officers were later investigated for having sex with the same woman while on duty, according to the lawsuit.

An internal investigation was conducted and the high-ranking officer who performed it at the time recommended that all five officers be fired, the suit states. Four of the five officers remain in the department and none were fired at the time. All five of the officers involved in the incidents are white.

The internal investigation was then reportedly given to Canale, who decided not to fire those involved, the suit states. Instead, the suit claims that the officers involved admit that Canale agreed to allow each officer to pay the woman $25,000 in exchange for not bringing criminal charges on the officers involved.

The suit states that all four of the remaining officers involved in the incidents have been named by Canale as an acting sergeant or sergeant above Cooper.

The suit is one of two against the city in federal court claiming racial discrimination within the police department. The other suit, filed in 2011 by two black and two Latino officers, is also proceeding.

Bartle’s order leaves open the issues raised by the city in its motion to dismiss that Cooper had failed to complain about the alleges discrimination in a timely fashion. He said the issue of meeting the two-year statute of limitations would be addressed as discovery proceeds.