MURFREESBORO, TN (WSMV) - A black Murfreesboro Police officer filed a lawsuit last month against the city and Police Chief Michael Bowen for discrimination.
The officer, Christopher Williams, has been with the Murfreesboro Police Department since March 2011. The lawsuit alleges that Williams has faced discrimination, harassment and has been passed up for promotions because he is black. The complaint was filed Nov. 1, 2019.
The complaint alleges that Williams is not the only one who has been treated unfairly due to the color of their skin. The suit says no black officer has been promoted since 2014.
This is not the first time that Williams and other officers of color have filed complaints regarding discriminatory practices. In 2018, Williams and others filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after they were denied promotions multiple times. The complaint alleges that the police department did not follow official policy and passed up two black officers, including Williams, for a promotion to sergeant.
The policy, which Bowen helped create in 2017 when he was Assistant Police Chief, says that promotions for sergeant and lieutenant would be decided using a "competitive selection process" that includes a test, psychoanalysis, essay and interview with a panel of people from various police departments in Middle Tennessee (Williams noted that all the panelists were white).
After the process is completed, scores are assigned to officers seeking a promotion, and those with the highest scores are promoted. Once promoted, those officers names are taken off the list and the people with the highest remaining scores are next in line for open positions. Williams' suit alleges that Bowen and the city did not follow this policy.
According to the complaint, in July 2017, then-Chief Karl Durr published a memo ranking the top 10 candidates for four open sergeant positions. The top four candidates were promoted to sergeant. All of them were white. Detective Christopher Phillips, who is black, was ranked number five. Williams was sixth.
When two sergeant positions opened after that, Phillips and Williams were not promoted despite being next in line per the policy. Williams says those positions remained vacant for almost a year. Williams also noted that Sgt. Rico Hathaway, who is black, was denied a promotion to lieutenant around the same time.
When Williams, Phillips and Hathaway filed charges with the EEOC, Chief Bowen reportedly said the black officers were not promoted because they had "no leadership abilities."
The promotion process was officially changed in July of last year.
Williams' lawsuit also details multiple instances of harassment and hostility from white officers. In one incident, white officers cocked a gun and pointed it at Williams' back. According to the complaint, the department only notified TBI of the incident after Williams got a lawyer.
In a separate incident, a white officer reportedly "screamed in [Williams'] face using racially degrading terms talking about his dark complexion." Another officer saw the incident and reported the office to human resources, but nothing was done. The officer who screamed at Williams was later promoted.
News4 reached out to Murfreesboro Police Department for comment. Attorney Matthew Lonergan is representing the city and Chief Bowen. He sent News4 the following statement:
The City of Murfreesboro and Chief Bowen strongly deny all allegations of discrimination and/or wrongdoing asserted by Officer Williams in his lawsuit. It is our practice not to address any specific allegations in the complaint or to comment further while the lawsuit is pending.