If the multiple incidents of extreme racism described in a pair of civil rights lawsuits are true, then the Hanford Police Department (HPD) appears to be a house divided that has begun its fall.
Among the HPD officers accused of targeting their fellow officers with race-based abuse is the department’s former chief Parker Sever, who left his position in October to move to Utah with his family, according to local press reports.
The City of Hanford has denied all claims in one case, and has yet to file a response to the other.
Officers Claim Racism by Former Chief
The two federal lawsuits in the US District Court’s Eastern District of California are brought by officers: one who still works for the department and a second who says he quit his job to escape the allegedly intolerable work conditions.
Both are represented by Sausalito-based attorney Charles Bonner.
The plaintiff in the first suit – filed in federal court in January of 2023 – is former officer Jason Stingley; the plaintiff in the second case is current officer Det. Patrick Jurdon. Jurdon’s suit was filed last month on December 7.
Stingley is African American, and Jurdon is of European descent. All defendants in the case are current and former members of the HPD. The City of Hanford is also among the defendants.
Named defendants in Stingley’s suit are Sever, retired Cpl. Jeff Davis and Cpt. Stephanie Huddleston. Sever is also named as defendant in the case brought by Jurdon, along with Cpl. Gabriel Jimenez, Lt. James Lutz, Cpt. Karl Anderson and Lt. James Edlund.
While Huddleston, Lutz and Edlund are accused only of creating a hostile work environment when reacting to complaints from Stingley and Jurdon about racist and illegal conduct of their fellow officers, the other named defendants – including former HPD chief Sever – all allegedly participated in overt racism.
The case filed by Jurdon also describes incidents of excessive force by HPD officers.
Sever left the HPD in September. In October, he began working as police chief in Heber City, Utah.
Noose Hung from Patrol Car
According to his lawsuit, Stingley was subjected to a series of racist incidents involving Sever during his time with the HPD that created a generally hostile workplace.
“They would force him to get on his knees and they would pretend to beat him to show how they treat black men,” said Stingley’s attorney, Bonner.
The lawsuit describes the incident taking place on a busy street corner, where Sever ordered Stingley onto his knees so white members of the HPD “could conduct a staged violent arrest of Mr. Stingley in front of the African American citizens of Hanford.”
Another allegedly racist incident involving Sever and Stingley took place in 2007, before Sever became HPD’s chief. Sever supposedly told Stingley he had asked the current chief of police if Stingley could carry a spear in place of his handgun. At the time of that incident, Sever was Stingley’s direct supervisor.
Conditions apparently became intolerable for Stingley after his superiors failed to investigate an incident when former HPD officer Davis is alleged to have used a racial slur while arresting a young African American. Davis later allegedly referred to Stingley with another racist slur, an incident supposedly witnessed by the entire HPD staff.
Davis is also accused of hanging a noose from his patrol car as result of his conflict with Stingley.
“Mr. Stingley was further subjected to a hostile work environment when Defendant Jeff Davis called Mr. Stingley an ‘Uncle Tom’ in front of the entire department. Defendants, including but not limited to Jeff Davis, continued to foster a hostile work environment when Jeff Davis, with the consent and appreciation of others in the HPD displayed a noose hanging from his patrol vehicle,” the suit states.
Davis is no longer employed by the HPD. He retired in March 2022.
Sever’s Alleged Racism Detailed
Stingley’s suit describes additional alleged incidents of racist behavior on the part of former chief Sever.
On December 20, 2016, Sever is said to have sent an office-wide email racially targeting Latinos. He also allegedly made an additional racist remark regarding the email.
“I meant Officer Rivera. Curse all of you for looking alike. Lol,” Sever allegedly wrote, according to the suit against him.
When the HPD hired a second African American officer, Sever supposedly told Stingley, “Now, we don’t have to promote you, Jason.”
Then in September 2020, Stingley was subjected to an internal affairs investigation following allegations of improper behavior made by Davis.
“Mr. Stingley was falsely accused of attending work in his pajamas, ‘smelling like a men’s locker room,’ threatening officers, making aggressive and sexually explicit comments, and causing other officers to fear for their safety,” the suit said of Davis’ accusations.
The suit says Stingley was not allowed to appeal the result of the internal affairs investigation before he was demoted on October 21, 2020 by Hanford city manager Mario Cifuentez.
In March of 2021, the suit claims Stingley was the subject of a second “baseless” internal affairs investigation, accused of challenging a citizen to a fight. He was placed on administrative leave at the time.
‘Racial and Discriminatory Animus’
The second suit claims current HPD officer Det. Patrick Jurdon “was forced to incur a protracted campaign of hostility, retaliation and disparate treatment founded upon racial and discriminatory animus by his own department” after speaking out against what he believes are “misdeeds” by other HPD officers.
Jurdon’s trouble with fellow officers appears to have begun in October of 2020 when he reported two unnamed fellow officers for creating and distributing a racist meme. Three months later, Jurdon says he filed a report against Cpt. Karl Anderson for unspecified misconduct during a secret service assignment.
In spring of 2021, Jurdon filed another report of misconduct against fellow officers, accusing Sgt. Taylor Lopes of assaulting a member of the public and using excessive force. Jurdon accused Lopes of pushing an unnamed individual 10 feet across an alleyway during a confrontation, causing the person to fall. A second officer, identified only as Rivera, was also involved in the violent incident.
“As the individual fell back, Hanford Police Department Officer Rivera administered a kick or a foot stomp to this person’s head,” the suit claims.
Retaliation Followed Reports of Misconduct
After Jurdon reported the alleged violent misconduct of Lopes and Rivera, the two allegedly recreated the infamous image of convicted murderer and former Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of his victim, George Floyd, replacing the face of Chauvin with a picture of Jurdon.
Floyd was killed by Chauvin in May of 2020, when Chauvin kneeled for more than nine minutes on the neck of Floyd. The incident was captured on video by bystanders, leading to national attention and the start of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Chauvin was found guilty of murder in April 2021.
Jurdon claims he was disciplined for driving a dusty patrol car at some point in 2021, despite the pool vehicle being used by various officers.
The alleged harassment continued when Jurdon transferred to a job in dispatch in the spring of 2021. Defendant Sgt. Gabriel Jimenez allegedly took the keys to the department-issued vehicle used by Jurdon just 15 minutes before the end of the work week, leaving him with no way home. Jurdon reported the incident to Cpt. Huddleston, but the keys were not returned for three days.
In September 2022, Jimenez again singled Jurdon out for disciplinary action, accusing him of being “rude and discourteous.”
Jurdon said Jimenez would not disclose the exact behavior that led to the disciplinary action, and that Jimenez did not follow standard department procedure.
‘Good morning, cocksucker’
Not long after, Jimenez and Jurdon had another confrontation, the lawsuit alleges.
“Approximately two weeks after the counseling Sgt. Jimenez came into the room at the start of shift and said, “Good morning, cocksucker,” to Officer Jurdon. Detective (Jacob) Fogal was sitting nearby and heard this statement,” the suit alleges.
Jurdon then complained to Lt. James Lutz about Jimenez’ conduct, attempting to discover what conduct had led to disciplinary action against him. Lutz allegedly told Jurdon he would face an internal affairs investigation if he pursued the matter, advising him to talk again with Jimenez.
This led to another confrontation, with an apparently angry Jimenez yelling at Jurdon “he knew what he had done,” and telling him he was doing him a favor by not starting an internal affairs investigation, the suit claims.
The conversation with Lutz was allegedly witnessed by Hanford Police Officers Association president Brent McCarthy, also an HPD officer. Jurdon is secretary of the association’s governing board.
Jimenez found reason to discipline Jurdon again in October 2022, accusing Jurdon of being inefficient and confronting him with an issue regarding “personal communication devices.”
Jimenez had earlier told Jurdon that Lutz disliked Jurdon’s use of headphones while working.
Jurdon claims the facts as presented by Jimenez were untrue. Specifically, Jimenez said Jurdon had failed to respond to a woman trying to retrieve her deceased son’s cellphone. The phone was evidence in an ongoing case, and Jurdon provided an email documenting his response to the woman’s request.
The disciplinary meeting between Jimenez and Jurdon was attended by a third member of the HPD. When that officer left the room momentarily leaving the pair alone, Jimenez allegedly confronted Jurdon.
“Sgt. Jimenez asked Officer Jurdon why he was looking at him. (Jurdon) asked him what he meant and (Jimenez) replied, ‘You look like you want to do something to me right now,’” the suit states.
The suit describes Jimenez’ conduct as an “unprofessional, extremely out of line” attempt to provoke Jurdon.
Jurdon’s attorney Bonner describes his client as someone trying to do the right thing and paying the price for challenging hostile and unresponsive supervisors.
“He is an outstanding police officer,’ Bonner said. “He objects to ongoing violations of people’s civil rights, and the people he works for didn’t like that.”
Jurdon was also singled out for abuse because he objected to the treatment Stingley was forced to endure.
“He witnessed the treatment this black cop received,” Bonner said.
The lawsuits brought by Bonner seek unspecified monetary compensation for damages to his clients caused by multiple ongoing violations of their civil rights.
Bonner claims the officers’ acts were “intentional, outrageous, despicable, oppressive, fraudulent, and done with ill will.” They must be addressed to protect the community at large, not just to achieve a measure of justice for Bonner’s clients.
“These officers have their jobs because of the privilege of the citizens,” Bonner said. “With that privilege they also have to be good citizens. At the end of the day, treat everyone equally.”
The best outcome in Bonner’s opinion would be one that improves conditions for everyone involved.
“We hope to have this settled for both the benefit of the community and the police department and (the officers),” he said. “That would be a win-win-win.”
The lawsuits may also have a broader, longer-term impact, Bonner hopes.
“It’s all about making our society a better place,” he said.