Fouts avoids questions on racial recordings in Warren bias lawsuit

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts declined to answer questions about whether he disparaged African-Americans when testifying in a racial-bias suit against the city, including whether his voice was on recordings last year, court records show.

Warren Mayor James R. Fouts was deposed in a lawsuit filed by a former Warren police officer who alleged discrimination and harassment.

A federal judge ruled last month the mayor would have to submit to a deposition as part of the federal case brought by DeSheila Howlett, an African-American former Warren police officer who alleges discrimination and harassment between 2000 and 2016. She claims officials did not address her concerns and Fouts, who selects the police chief and diversity director, failed to prioritize diversity training.

Fouts has been accused of making crude comments about African-Americans and older women in recordings released last year. He has denied his voice is the voice on the recordings and last year said the controversy was designed to “is distract, to divide and disrupt.”

During Fouts' Aug. 23 deposition, Howlett’s attorney, Leonard Mungo, brought up the tapes.

“Sir, is that your voice on these recordings degrading African-Americans?” he asked Fouts.

 Lawyer Raechel Badalamenti, who is representing Warren in the lawsuit, objected and directed Fouts not to answer. The mayor replied: “I decline to answer the question on advice of counsel.”

When Mungo questioned Fouts about making any derogatory or degrading comments about women, the mayor said the same.

Badalamenti said Friday she objected because Mungo overstepped earlier judge-set limits on the scope of questioning.

Attorneys representing Fouts and the city had sought to avoid the mayor being deposed but requested that if he had to testify, the records be sealed. The judge declined to order the transcript of the deposition be sealed but ruled it would not be videotaped.

"We don't have secret proceedings," said U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg. 

Fouts' responses in his deposition in August were released Thursday as part of a motion Howlett’s counsel filed in U.S. District Court for a partial summary judgment.

“Nearly 33 years after the United States Department of Justice sued the city for civil rights violations under Title VII, the city and various members of the Police Department are still engaged in and tolerating discriminatory acts and harassment,” Mungo wrote.

“The city’s participation and acquiescence in the long-standing practices and customs that are so ingrained in the fabric of the city of Warren were the moving force and causal link to the constitutional violations suffered by Plaintiff.”

In the filing, Mungo mentioned testimony in March by former Deputy Police Commissioner Louis Galasso, who testified that Fouts would make insensitive comments about the elderly, overweight people and African-Americans.

"I certainly understood some of his comments to me personally -- I would find them offensive and insensitive ...," former Deputy Police Commissioner Louis Galasso said in a deposition in March.

“I certainly understood some of his comments to me personally — I would find them offensive and insensitive, and that would include everything that I’ve mentioned, be it race, gender, age, smokers, drinkers,” Galasso testified.

Galasso also said he heard other white officers use a racial slur to describe African-Americans during his time on the force.