Fouts challenges order to testify in bias suit
Warren Mayor James Fouts is challenging the necessity of having to provide a video deposition in a federal lawsuit filed by a former police officer who accuses the Macomb County city of racial discrimination.
DeSheila Howlett, an African-American, alleges she suffered repeated racial and gender discrimination and harassment in the department between 2000 and 2016, because there was no diversity training required of her fellow officers.
When she complained to supervisors, nothing was done, according to Howlett's suit. She believes Fouts, who handpicks his police chief and also a diversity director, has not made diversity training a priority in the state’s third-largest city.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg granted a request by Howlett’s attorney to have Fouts questioned under oath and denied the city’s efforts to quash subpoenas and depositions before the trial. Fouts' attorney, Raechel Badalamenti, said Tuesday she hopes to convince Berg to rescind that order.
“We don’t feel that it is appropriate,” said Badalamenti. “My focus is defending my client from unnecessary and costly time spent away from duties he was elected to perform. The fact that they want to depose him – someone who is not even a defendant in the case – tells me that they are desperate and not obtaining the type of information they thought they would from other officials.
“We believe there is a real disconnect between the perceived issues within the Warren Police Department by her (Howlett) and what attorneys hope to obtain.”
If Berg still permits the deposition, Fouts wants any transcript to be sealed so it cannot be accessed by the public or the media, according to his request, filed Monday in U.S. District Court.
In an April 10 filing in federal court, Howlett said she wanted Fouts deposed because “he is instrumental in developing and implementing policy” that had produced a culture of discrimination.
"Based on the arguments made in our various briefs filed with the court, which are now public records, we believe that when government operates outside of the scrutiny of the public there exists the likelihood of substantial harm to the public’s interest," said Howlett's attorney, Leonard Mungo.
Mungo said his client has 14 days to respond to Fouts' motion, followed by an opportunity for Fouts to reply, and that the judge will decide whether to conduct oral arguments before ruling.
Badalamenti said the allegations are without merit and her primary focus is to preventing Fouts from unneeded involvement in the case. She noted the issues are much broader and could apply to other lawsuits involving other municipalities.
“James Fouts is not a defendant in this lawsuit and while he appoints the city’s police commissioner, Fouts does not set policy within the police department,” she said. “To have him questioned about matters he is not directly involved with is a waste of everyone’s time and taxpayer money.”
Fouts, who is up for re-election next year, has been embroiled in controversy in the past year involving leaked tape recordings that have been purported to be him making disparaging remarks towards African-Americans, people with development disabilities and others. He has repeatedly denied being the person making inappropriate comments in tape recordings and described it as a smear campaign against him.
Badalamenti said 28 depositions have been required in the case, each of which requires those targeted and their attorneys to make themselves available for up to several hours.