COLUMBUS, Ga. - A Georgia city is paying $600,000 to settle claims that a Black former police chief racially discriminated against two white officers by not promoting them.
The Ledger Enquirer of Columbus reports that the Columbus City Council voted 9-0 on Tuesday to settle the 2022 federal lawsuit against the city. Lt. Ralph Dowe, Lt. Tony Litle and their lawyers will get $200,000 apiece.
Dowe and Litle alleged that former Police Chief Freddie Blackmon, who was pushed into retirement earlier this year by city officials, broke federal law when Blackmon passed over them. They also alleged that the city’s affirmative action plan, which called for employees to meet the racial makeup of the Columbus area, was "facially discriminatory."
Dowe, president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, had a role in Blackmon’s ouster, testifying before the Columbus City Council in 2022 that a union survey showed officers lacked confidence in Blackmon.
The city paid Blackmon $400,000 to retire. The city’s second Black chief at one point demanded $850,000 and threatening to sue the city for racial discrimination.
Columbus saw officers leave the force even as it recorded a record 70 homicides in 2021. Killings have since fallen. The department polices all of Muscogee County under Columbus’ consolidated city-county government.
The suit alleged that when Blackmon became chief in 2020, he avoided promoting five white captains into open command positions and instead changed the rules to allow him to promote lieutenants, giving him a pool with more Black people eligible for promotion.
The changes also meant that a 2018 list of people eligible to be promoted to captain, which included Dowe and Litle, expired. People seeking promotion were required to take a new test, and Dowe and Litle were classified as "highly recommended for promotion," which under city rules meant Blackmon was supposed to promote them to captain before people with lower evaluations.
But Dowe and Litle said Blackmon, after changing the rules, promoted every eligible Black person and woman. While some white men were also promoted, Dowe and Litle said they were unfairly passed over in favor of people with less experience and worse disciplinary records.
Mayor Skip Henderson told WRBL-TV that Dowe and Litle will remain on the police force.
"By getting this behind us it allows us to focus all of our energy, all of our time and all of our attention to making Columbus the safest city," Henderson said.
City leaders had previously called the claims "wholly without merit."