White Detroit cop claims racial, age bias after demotion over viral video

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — A white Detroit police captain has filed a federal lawsuit claiming racial and age discrimination after he was demoted in the wake of a controversy surrounding a social media video that showed two white cops taunting an African American woman.

Gary Sroka, whose attorneys filed the suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, was a captain in the 6th Precinct when the video surfaced in January. He says in the 11-page lawsuit that he and another white official were unfairly punished while black command staff escaped discipline.

"Defendants discriminated against and treated Sroka less favorably than similarly situated employees due to his race," said the lawsuit, which names the city and police department as defendants.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig addresses questions from the media during a Feb. 27 press conference announcing the firing of Officer Gary Steele, who posted a racially insensitive Snapchat video.

City attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The video in question was uploaded to Snapchat by former officer Gary Steele, who, along with partner Michael Garrison pulled over motorist Ariel Moore on the city's west side Jan. 29 for an expired license registration. The officers ordered the vehicle impounded.

The clip shows shows Moore walking from the scene as Steele says "priceless" and "bye Felicia" with caption tags that read, "What black girl magic looks like," and "celebrating Black History Month." Garrison is heard on the video saying "walk of shame."

After the video went viral, police chief James Craig launched an "internal audit" of the 6th Precinct. Craig said the audit found a "racially tone deaf" culture at the precinct.

Steele and Garrison were fired in February, and Craig also told Sroka and another white captain, Kenneth Balinski, they could either retire or be demoted to lieutenant, said the lawsuit, which doesn't specify damages sought.

"Sroka chose to accept a demotion to lieutenant because he had no intention of retiring for several more years, while Balinski chose to retire," the lawsuit said.

Sroka said the video surfaced during his first week after being transferred to the 6th Precinct.

"Immediately upon release of the video, Sroka initiated directives within the 6th Precinct against racism and intended to address and omit any racial tensions or racially divided atmosphere within the 6th Precinct," the lawsuit said.

"Sroka was held by Craig as partially responsible for the racially discriminatory atmosphere in the 6th Precinct, although Sroka had not been with the 6th Precinct before or at the time the video was recorded and when the racially divided atmosphere in the 6th Precinct was developed and/or tolerated," the suit said.

"The commanding officers at the 6th Precinct while the racially divided atmosphere in the 6th Precinct was developed and/or tolerated and before the video was released and/or at the time of its release were Commanders Arnold Williams and Tiffany Stewart (Warren), both African American and both in their 40’s," the lawsuit said.

"Stewart, who had served as a Command Officer of the 6th Precinct before and when the video was filmed, moved to a different position within the DPD just before Sroka moved to the 6th Precinct," the lawsuit said.

The suit added: "Williams was a Command Officer at the 6th Precinct before and when the video was filmed, when it was released, when the racially divided atmosphere at the 6th Precinct was prevalent, and he remains as Command Officer of the 6th Precinct today.

"Neither Williams nor Stewart were demoted, disciplined, or held responsible for the racially divided atmosphere in the 6th Precinct under their commands," the lawsuit claimed.

A phone call to the Detroit Police Command Officers Association was not immediately returned Wednesday.

In March, Sroka was demoted to the lieutenant rank and assigned to the Assets and Licensing Department, "which job placement Sroka equated to being put out to pasture until retirement," the suit said.

"As a result of his demotion and re-assignment, Sroka has experienced loss of respect within the DPD, loss of self-esteem, loss of sleep, anxiety, depression, negative impact on his personal relationships, and other emotional damages," according to the lawsuit.

Sroka's attorney, Caitlin E. Malhiot, said Wednesday: "Our position is pretty detailed in the complaint. We’re looking for economic and emotional damages, although we haven’t made a demand for a specific number at this time."


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN