Cop who authored racist letter files civil-rights lawsuit against city

Justin Barrett, who re-ignited controversy over Gatesgate with racist e-mail about Gates, filed a federal lawsuit against the city yesterday. He's demanding unspecified damages for his pain and suffering - and an end to efforts by Police Commissioner Ed Davis and Mayor Tom Menino to bounce him from the force, at least without a hearing.

In his suit, Barrett says he sent the e-mail to Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham (who says she deleted it without finishing it) from his own personal computer at his Readville home, via a private Web server. The suit does not mention from where he sent a copy of the letter to other acquaintances - one of whom forwarded it to the Herald, which broke the story about the letter.

And he says his right to due process under both federal and state constitutions have been violated because Davis vowed to terminate him and Menino said he was "G-O-N-E" before holding any disciplinary hearings.

The suit also claims that Davis sent "upwards of ten" uniformed and plainclothes officers to his home to strip him of his badge and service revolver.

Barrett's court complaint.

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Comments

Mental Illness Disability?

This guy is either a lunatic or he became attracted to being a cop because he thought that it meant never having to be questioned about anything or seeing consequences for your actions.

Not that the current police union behavior gives him reason to believe otherwise, but life, in general, isn't like that.

One could argue his 1st

One could argue his 1st amendment rights were violated for being fired over exercising free speech off duty. And from a union perspective he was denied due process in his firing.

That aside, the officer is a bloody idiot.

"Off Duty" versus "In an Official Capacity"

Off duty isn't enough - if he at all identifies himself as a Boston Police Officer, he can be given official consequences for his actions.

There is a difference between saying "I'm private citizen Joe Idiot and I'm a racist jerk" and saying "I'm Officer Joe Idiot of the Boston Police Department and I'm a racist jerk". The former is protected, the latter can land you in deep trouble.

Yeah, and there's the gray area

If this document is indeed the letter that Barrett wrote, then I can note the following things:

1. He didn't mention the BPD by name, though he identifies himself as a "current police officer." (He also identifies himself as a former English teacher, which does not excuse the GIANT HONKIN TEXTBRICK he dumped on the reporter there.)

2. His email address is redacted except for the domain, which is yahoo.com. It's clearly posted from a personal account. His email username could reflect his BPD affiliation, but that's nebulous.

3. He doesn't use the "jungle monkey" phrase just once. He uses it several times. It wasn't just an epithet thrown in passing, it was an important rhetorical part of his argument. You can claim to be the most tolerant person in the world who allegedly treats everybody the same and with respect, but it's kind of hard to believe you when you write things like "[Gates] has transcended back to a bumbling jungle monkey".

n.b. "transcend" means "to rise above or extend notably beyond ordinary limits." Can you rise above and back at the same time? I think the word Barrett was struggling for here was "evolve", but that'd open up a whole 'nother can of worms.

4. The "jungle monkey" part isn't even the nuttiest part of the email. Whenever Barrett gets bored trying to make his point, he goes back to insulting the reporter, including this brilliant stream of consciousness: "You are a hot little bird with minimal experiences in a harsh field. You are a fool. An infidel. You have no business writing for a US newspaper nevermind detailing and analyzing half truths."

Honestly, if the guy had posted this as a comment on the Globe's website, it'd have looked no different than the rest of the tripe that passes as user commentary over there. A moderator would have probably removed the message right quick, but no matter how long it lasted online, it would definitely not have caused any stir beyond some minimal snark and flames, and probably a few attaboys as well.

But since it was personally written from a man (later?) identified as an officer from the Boston Police Department...

I'm conflicted here. Without taking "conduct unbecoming" into consideration, I'm not sure I could fully support the suspension and possible firing of the man, given that he wrote it from his own personal soapbox (email timestamps and payroll records, I guess, could corroborate whether or not he wrote it on his personal time or if he did it while on the clock) and he did not bring the name of the BPD into this.

I can agree that he's an idiot and a racist blowhard. (And unless the email online was stripped of its formatting, he is also not familiar with the basic concept of a paragraph.) But honestly he is on the level of an anonymous commenter here, and should be treated accordingly: with derision, perhaps, but then a healthy dose of Not Listening.

I think this guy deserves due process if he is to receive workplace sanctions. He deserves due process as an employee of the BPD and member of the union... but not because of any claims that his civil rights are being violated. And if this due process decides he should be punished on the grounds of conduct unbecoming, then well, there you go. Them's the rules.

Really, if this guy would just shut up for one moment, he may get a break. But if he keeps shooting his mouth off and trying to claim he's the victim here, he deserves whatever he gets.

One thing not mentioned

You didn't mention the e-mail that got him in trouble which was the forward of his original message to his National Guard buddies. This may or may not have come from his BPD e-mail (not sure we have a way of knowing) and may or may not have come when he was on duty or not.

It's another wrinkle, but it is one that could provide justification for any action regardless of when the original e-mail was written.

Ah.

You didn't mention the e-mail that got him in trouble which was the forward of his original message to his National Guard buddies.

Ah. Wasn't aware of that wrinkle, no. Have we seen a copy of that message yet?

Just a guess

I'm guessing that what we're seeing is the forwarded copy (thus the beginning header of his Yahoo e-mail account).

If he writes from Yahoo -> Globe, then the Globe reporter won't see a "So-and-so wrote" header. The Globe columnist supposedly summarily deleted it before finishing reading it. If he then sent a copy of the sent item from Yahoo->(his BPD->)Nat'l Guard friend list, then the forward would include the header. It would also possibly lose formatting (depending on how he forwarded/copied it) causing it to be a brick of text like in the Fox25 posted letter.

So, I'm guessing that we're seeing the copy that made it to the Herald (and/or Fox25).

Also according to the Herald article that Anonymous just linked at the bottom of these comments, it appears it wasn't just sent to Nat'l Guard members but also people on the Boston Police force (and that BPD has made the letter public somehow?). So, if I'm an inner-city public teacher and I go home for the night and e-mail the other teachers a letter where I complain about the behavior of the "jungle monkeys" in my class...should I still keep my job?

I read that Justin mailed

I read that Justin mailed the letter to the globe columnist and friends in the national guard. Then it was a friend at the national guard who mailed it to Fox ... I cant put my finger on the article.

Once he sent it, he loses control over it. It's fallacy to claim that the city or the BPD is responsible for the press that followed.

It's the letter that keeps on giving

In addition to all the cracks about Gates, it shows a certain disregard for women as full-fledged members of modern society and takes a rather "Christianist" and authoritarian view of people who would dare question the police (see the reference to Abraham as an "infidel"). One can only hope this is not the prevaling sentiment in the Massachusetts National Guard; the fact that he felt comfortable sending it to other Guard members, however, might raise some troubling questions, except, as we know (because his lawyer told us so), he's not a racist (and, presumably by extension, not a woman-hating fascist looking forward to the End Times).

I hope Justin's buddies in

I hope Justin's buddies in the national guard recognize that his expression to the globe columnist and Gates is not honorable.

I think justin may have PSTD but not because of Davis and Menino's reaction to his email, instead from the GWOT (Iraq) as he calls it in the complaint.

it looks like he's wearing a fatigue-style shirt here.

Good points

Update: I had an aside here about the "transcended" vocabulary misfire, but upon re-reading the letter, I realized that it was perfectly valid as prose in context, so I deleted my comment.

But when off-the-job conduct reflects on job skills...

I think it's completely appropriate to let someone go who behaves in a way that shows they don't have a basic respect for the people they're paid to serve. If I posted somewhere about how poor people and children with developmental disabilities and families with single parents really piss me off, I'd expect that my director would fire me, because one of my core job requirements is to be able to work respectfully with children and families, to be able to conceptualize what their problems must be like. My job requires a lot of judgment on my part; I'm supposed to work with families to help them do what's best for them and their children. There isn't a list of tasks drawn up for me telling me which families I should help with housing and which families I should get in touch with a physical therapist. It's up to me to work with families and decide who needs what, and I wouldn't be able to do this if I didn't believe that these families and children deserve to have their needs met just like my own family does.

A police officer has similar requirements of needing to decide what's best in a situation without there always being a "right" answer. He can't do this job if he's viewing people of color as being less deserving of just treatment than white people are.

Also, if we want to look at it more concretely, the code of ethics for my professional license states that I need to surrender my license if I develop any substance abuse or psychological or personality issues that impair judgment. It specifically states that this is the case even if all of this is taking place off duty. The reasoning is because we know that people just don't go around showing horrible judgment in their personal lives and then go into work and have a totally different psychological makeup. And if they are able to honestly present totally differently depending who they're with, then they're psychopaths.

http://1smootshort.blogspot.com

I really don't want to defend this guy, but...

"He can't do this job if he's viewing people of color as being less deserving of just treatment than white people are."

On a re-read of the letter just now, it's not clear to me that he had that view.

My impression is that he was criticizing his understanding of particular behavior of a particular individual, and using a racial slur to label the behavior or individual. Given that he was an English teacher and seems to have good command of the language and an awareness of cultural associations, I'm going to assume that he knowingly used a slur, rather than it being a reference to the primate evolutionary origin we all share.

Further, if we assume for the sake of argument that it was an intentional use of a racial slur, we don't necessarily know his intent. One possible interpretation is of someone saying, "Stop acting like this negative racial stereotype." That would be a very offensive way to criticize, but is not the same as saying that there is any truth to the stereotype, and is not necessarily racist. (That Boondocks TV episode that someone cited the other day actually asserted that an offense stereotype applied generally, which is racist, if taken literally.)

In any case, I'll grant that his letter seemed to reflect poor judgment, as I said originally. Whether there were extraordinary circumstances, such as stress, I do not know.

Well, it depends what the employer's expectations are

I don't feel that his words necessarily make him an outright racist. I do feel that his words pretty clearly indicate that he isn't an optimal ally of people of color, or particularly able to see the side of the story of anyone who's encountering the police.

The local police departments frequently have inservice trainings from people in the social/psych fields about how to better understand the perspectives of people from marginalized groups and understand why someone might act in a certain way. Also on how to deescalate a tense situation and calm the person down and assure them that both sites have the mutual goal of figuring out what's going on and what needs to be done about it.

I'm not commenting on how well the police do or don't actually follow through with any of this, but just saying that I know they frequently request trainings on how to show empathy and better relate to people who are different from them. So at least on some level, it's the BPD's expectation that members of their force don't hold beliefs like "I'd have peppersprayed him in a second if he talked to me like that."

http://1smootshort.blogspot.com

If it keeps him from doing his job, then he shouldn't do the job

I can agree with you on that. Unless you work in technical support or at Dick's Last Resort, it can be extremely difficult and counterproductive to continually serve and protect people for whom you have obvious contempt.

(I resisted the chance to make an obvious MBTA/MBCR joke. Hooray for restraint!)

Anyway, I still think the guy should get his "due process" here. If only so that he can't run around crying about how his civil rights were violated, because that's what's pushing my buttons right now. Someone who shows off to his buddies how he sure put that jungle monkey and that "hot little bird" in their place has no place to complain about his civil rights. And if Menino hadn't demonstrated to us how he can successfully spelled the word "GONE", I don't think Barrett's hue and cry would've been as strong.

My. A lotta foot shooting has gone on here, hasn't it?

Gates shot himself in the foot, however justified his anger may have been (and wouldn't you be pissed if you just came back from an overseas flight, couldn't get back into your home, and then had the police stop by?) by playing both the racism and the "do you know who I am?" card. The arresting officer shot himself in the foot by overreacting to Gates' overreaction. Barrett shot himself in the foot by shooting his mouth off to a Globe columnist and then his buddies. Menino shot himself in the foot by immediately declaring Zero Tolerance on the guy and spelling G-O-N-E.

I keep thinking okay, sheesh, maybe now this flap will quiet down a bit, or at least maybe we can see some people trying to work this out civilly, but every time I think that someone else pops in with a new can of gasoline to toss on the fire.

Unless you work in technical

Unless you work in technical support or at Dick's Last Resort, it can be extremely difficult and counterproductive to continually serve and protect people for whom you have obvious contempt.

I can't speak to Dick's, but it's counterproductive for tech support too, at least on the in-house side. Of course, some people and some companies don't get the connection.

he hasn't even been fired yet...

he's on fully paid leave while he waits for his hearing regarding termination.

and numerous courts have upheld that police officers who have conduct clauses can be held liable for things said and done while they are off duty.

boston police does have conduct clauses, and i would guess one of the charges they will bring up at the hearing is "conduct unbecoming an officer".

agreed, he's an idiot.

First amendment isn't one-sided like that

The first amendment guarantees freedom from GOVERNMENT CENSORSHIP OF SPEECH. It doesn't imply any freedom from the consequences of said speech.

If I start talking about wanting to kill the mayor, the government isn't going to censor me, but I'm going to end up in a hospital and possibly face criminal and/or civil charges. If I use my free speech to write a blog naming my workplace and making up a bunch of horrible lies about them, the government won't censor me, but my employer will fire me and probably sue me for libel. If I use my free speech to blog about personal details of clients' lives, I'll lose my job and my license and will be sued.

http://1smootshort.blogspot.com

it's a good point, eeka.

my friend worked for Harvard and got fired over comments she wrote about Harvard, and it's employees, on her personal blog.

in her case, she used her blog URL as the tagline to her emails, which was common pracice. but that link led people down a bunny trail to some very unfriendly and downright hostile comments about her employer.

and her firing was not a freedom of speach issue. harvard was within their right to fire her.

the things you put out there in the blogophere, or into the email machine, or anywhere into the ether, should be viewed as public and might come back to bite you on the ass.

and your employer, in many cases, has the right to say they don't want you representing them.

Plus you usually agree to it when you sign up

My employer has a personnel policy stating that we can't link to the agency or mention that we work there on any webpages. You know, to cover their asses if anyone represents them badly. Much easier to fire someone for a clear breach of a very concrete policy.

When people've done stuff like asked IT if it's ok to list our employment on the resume section of facebook, or to participate in linkedin or whatever, they say that that kind of use of the agency name is completely appropriate. The HR people actually created profiles and friended all of us on linked in and facebook pretty early on. I also asked them at one point if I could link to the agency when I was making a page cataloging resources in the area. They said that was totally fine.

Had I wanted to, I could have asked to review the personnel policies before accepting the job. I agreed to the policies by taking the job. Not a first amendment issue.

http://1smootshort.blogspot.com

one overreaction begets another

The instantaneous condemnation and overwhelming reaction from City Hall and Police HQ may give him a weak leg to stand on in his lawsuit. His free speech and due process claims may pass the legal laugh tests depending in part on specific language in the contract, at least enough squeeze out some sort of settlement.

I hope that isn't the case. This guy is a classic Boston hater, and the fewer of these guys we have wearing a police badge, the safer some of us should feel.

Justin Barrett & intentionally infliction of emotional distress

Uncivil Justin Barrett wants relief ($$$$$) for violations of his civil rights under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment by, he alleges, the City of Boston, Police Commissioner, and Mayor conspiring to intentionally inflict emotional distress, and intentionally interfere with the property rights, due process, and civil rights of the very uncivil racial stereotyper Justin Barrett.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted after the Civil War as one of the Reconstruction Amendments on July 9, 1868.

At issue is whether the Mayor's and the Police Commisioner's statements constitute a denial of due process, whether the statements are contingent on an unspoken assumption of facts that would later be tested in the formal evaluation of Justin's ability to serve within the guidelines required of all officers.

Barrett’s Boston-based

Barrett’s Boston-based lawyer, Peter Marano, told reporters his client will fight the department if he is fired. He said the e-mail was a private message sent from a private computer.

"I think the department has taken such an outwardly over-proportional response," he said. "We have police officers who do heroin, cocaine and keep their job, beat their wives, keep their jobs. The mayor isn’t out on TV saying they’re g-o-n-e."

Marano said Barrett, who did a tour of duty in Iraq in 2005, will not speak publicly. In an interview with WCVB-TV, Barrett, accompanied by Marano, said he was sorry about what he wrote.

"It was a poor choice of words. I did not mean to offend anyone," he told the station.

"I am not a racist, I never have been, never will be. I treat people with dignity and respect every time," he added.

Boston police said Barrett used a racial slur in an e-mail sent to The Boston Globe and later forwarded to guardsmen and police officers. Authorities are investigating Barrett’s actions as an officer and talking to all the e-mail’s recipients.

Barrett wrote in the e-mail, a copy of which was released by the Boston police department, that if he were the officer sent to Gates’ home, he "would have sprayed him in the face with OC (pepper spray) deserving of his belligerent non-compliance."

Police Commissioner Edward Davis said Thursday that Barrett’s "venomous rhetoric" would not be tolerated and added that his hearing will take place in the next seven to 10 days. Union regulations prohibit the department from firing an officer immediately.

"His racist opinions and feelings have no place in our department," Davis said at a news conference.
http://bit.ly/ld7T9

Pepper-spraying a non-aggressive somewhat uncooperative dissenter in his own own could hardly be called respectful.

I think Justin is sick. He may also be racist but he is definitely sick.

When is his hearing?

He's right in one regard

Barrett's lawyer makes a good point in saying that a cop can do all sorts of hurtful and illegal things -- stuff that would get most people fired and jailed in a second -- and still keep the badge.

It's not an argument that makes lawyers or clients look good in the public eye, but proportionality in discipline is a big deal in public sector labor proceedings, so it's not beyond the pale for him to make it.

Boston Cop Put On Circus Detail

BOSTON, MA - A Boston police officer has been sentenced to perform under the big-top after being fired for referring to a black Harvard professor as a "banana-eating jungle monkey."

Officer Justin Barrett apologized for his comments in an e-mail about Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and denied he has anything against our distant cousins.

"I understand my choice of words was poor, but I never meant to imply I have anything against banana-eating jungle monkeys," said Barrett. link