Two officers sue for racial discrimination in Fort Collins Police Department

A discrimination lawsuit was filed against the City of Fort Collins and top police officials last Wednesday claiming that the city police department had condoned a culture of discrimination against Latino/Hispanic officers.

The lawsuit was the second filed this year claiming racial discrimination in the Fort Collins Police Department. The first was filed April 29.

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Former Det. Kennyburg Araujo and current FCPD Sgt. Francis Gonzales filed suit against the city Sept. 7, claiming years of unjust treatment because of their racial background and a lack of initiative from the city to prevent discrimination.

“For decades, the FCPD has fostered and condoned a culture of discrimination against Latino/Hispanic officers, which is evidenced in its hiring and promotional practices as well as its disparate treatment of Latino/Hispanic officers in its disciplinary decisions and performance evaluations,” the complaint states.

The officers claimed that their FCPD superiors prevented them from getting promotions, repeatedly and openly criticized them, retaliated against them after they filed internal complaints, used racial slurs and unfairly disciplined them.

Det. Araujo and Sgt. Gonzales claim they were repeatedly passed over for promotions, despite being highly qualified.

According to the lawsuit, Det. Araujo and Sgt. Gonzales allege prevalent discrimination in the department prevented them from career progression, while simultaneously, white members of the department excelled and were promoted despite being less-qualified for similar positions.

Sgt. Gonzales, a veteran of the force for more than three decades, was passed over for numerous promotions to the position of lieutenant, in favor of white officers with less experience and lower-scoring test scores, the suit alleges.

According to the complaint, Sgt. Gonzales was later told by several individuals that Deputy Chief Vagge had “blackballed” him, actively blocking his promotion to lieutenant throughout the course of his career.

Det. Araujo saw the same treatment, having outperformed several other candidates for a promotion but was not selected.

During the selection process, his superior, Sgt. Shaklee, told the selection committee that Det. Araujo did not have enough experience for the position. However, a white officer with less experience was chosen after Sgt. Shaklee pressured the committee not to select Det. Araujo, the suit claims.

Over the course of their careers, both received high marks and praise from their superiors, including Sgt. Gonzales being referred to as “the gold standard” for sergeants, and Det. Araujo as having “the essentials to be an exceptional officer.”

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In the department’s history, only one Latino/Hispanic officer has ever been promoted to Lieutenant, according to the complaint.

The complaint makes numerous allegations that their superiors, Sgt. Gary Shaklee and former Deputy Chief Donald Vagge, repeatedly and willfully discriminated against them based solely on their Hispanic heritage.

As part of the internal investigation, Sgt. Gonzales served as a witness for Det. Araujo. It was during this time that he discovered claims that Deputy Chief Vagge had repeatedly blocked his promotion to lieutenant.

The officers were repeatedly and openly criticized by their superiors and subject to disparate remarks, including being referred to as “tonks,” a racial slur referring to people living in the U.S. illegally, according to the lawsuit.

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According to the lawsuit, FCPD fostered and condoned a culture of discrimination against Latino/Hispanic officers. (Ryan Arb | Collegian)

 

After the formal complaints were made, the plaintiffs were actively retaliated against after bringing their concerns to superiors, the suit claims.

Det. Araujo brought his concerns of discrimination to the attention of the FCPD in 2014, filing a report with human resources and with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to the complaint, Det. Araujo brought his concern to Deputy Chief Vagge, who allegedly did nothing to reprimand Sgt. Shaklee.

Det. Araujo was soon after issued “written reprimand, removed from his collateral-duty assignments, suffered a reduction in pay, and was constructively discharged.”

Det. Araujo and Sgt. Gonzales also claimed they were unfairly disciplined – including a number of incidents where white officers were not were not held to the same standards.

In one such incident, Det. Araujo was reprimanded for not submitting a police report at the end of his shift. Another white officer, having received the same reprimand, was released from a probationary period at the scheduled time, while Det. Araujo was kept under watch and issued a work plan, the suit claims.

Despite several circumstances in which the department actively discriminated against Latino/Hispanic officers, the city did nothing to reprimand officers in command, or to offer relief to those affected, the complaint states.

The internal investigations reported no wrongdoing on the part of either defendant.

According to the lawsuit, FCPD “has continually failed to take seriously complaints of race discrimination,” continuing that, “in taking no action to correct this unlawful behavior, Fort Collins has engaged in discrimination and has ratified the discriminatory conduct of its supervisors and final policymakers.”

Det. Araujo and Sgt. Gonzales are seeking trial case and damages including lost pay and benefits, emotional pain, suffering, humiliation and mental anguish.

A trial date has not yet been set.

Collegian reporter Dan DeHerrera can be reached at news@collegian.com.