In lawsuit, Richfield cops allege department sought more 'knuckle draggers'

  • Article by: JOHN REINAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 4, 2014 - 11:19 PM

A Hennepin County judge will examine the age case on Friday.

A Hennepin County judge will consider Friday whether to dismiss an age discrimination suit against the city of Richfield by four veteran police officers.

In court documents, the officers claim the Police Department rigged the promotion system to favor younger personnel. The officers also allege that the department manipulated the hiring process to exclude a female candidate.

According to sworn affidavits from the veteran officers, members of the department’s hiring examination panel said the Richfield department needed more “knuckle draggers” on the force.

Richfield is moving for immediate dismissal of the suit, saying the officers have failed to make a credible case that they were discriminated against. In court filings, the city says the officers’ allegations consist mainly of hearsay and outright falsehoods.

The officers’ claims “are based on pure speculation and the hope that misplaced indignation and faux self-righteousness will be accepted in lieu of facts,” the city said in a court filing.

Judge Regina M. Chu will hear arguments in a hearing on Friday afternoon.

The four Richfield officers are:

• Greg Peterson, 52.

• Souphanny Dean, 45.

• Brian Rogge, 48.

• Jeff Hatzenbeller, 55.

They allege that the Richfield Police Department passed them over for promotions and prestigious assignments in favor of younger officers with far less training and experience. The department changed its personnel process to ensure that its favored candidates would receive the highest scores in evaluations used in promotion decisions, the veteran cops allege.

In bypassing Dean, who is a native of Laos, the department missed an opportunity to promote diversity in a changing community, said Patrick Burns, attorney for the four veteran officers.

“In the wake of Ferguson, you have a situation where you have a largely insulated police force in a diverse community. The same has occurred in the city of Richfield,” Burns said. “It has become increasingly diverse. You have Asian gangs, you have Hispanic gangs. But they have only two minority officers in the department [out of about 45 officers]. And then you have an officer who’s alleged to have made the ‘knuckle-dragger’ comment.”

Richfield Mayor Debbie Goettel said she couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case but offered general support for the department.

“We have really great police officers, and I hear great comments on them all the time,” she said. “Every police department has things that come up, and we just deal with them as they arise.

“There’s no hard feelings or ill will. We want the best for everyone.”

John Reinan • 612-673-7402

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