Officer says bosses, co-workers violated his civil rights over lineage


HASTINGS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Hastings police sergeant has filed a lawsuit against his chief, two other officers and the Hastings city manager for what he claims are civil rights violations.

Sgt. Cleon Brown, who remains on the force, claims he’s been harassed since he revealed he’s 18 percent black. It all began when an ancestry research site answered a lingering question Brown had about his lineage.

“Cleon, when he found out he was 18 percent African-American, was very proud of it,” said Brown’s Detroit-area attorney, Karie Boylan.

But the lawsuit contends not everyone at the Hastings Police Department shared in Brown’s pride, and it started in the office one day last fall.

Boylan claims Chief Jeff Pratt spotted Brown.

“He saw Cleon standing there and said, ‘Hey Kunta,’ as in Kunta Kinte,” Boylan said. “Cleon’s response, incredulously, was, ‘I can’t believe you just called me that.’”

Additional details in the lawsuit filed by Brown – a 19-year veteran of the force – in early April indicate things went downhill for him from there.

Claims of fist pumps and whispers of Black Lives Matter from fellow officers as they passed Brown in the hallway are on the list of accusations.

The most public evidence appeared on a Christmas tree in the lobby of the police department, where decorations included Santa figurines with the names of each officer. Brown’s Santa was black with 18 percent written on the beard.

“These are law enforcement officers. These are people who are supposed to understand cultural sensitivities,” Boylan said.

The lawsuit names the city, Chief Pratt, Deputy Chief Dale Boulter, Sgt. Kris Miller and Hastings City Manager Jeff Mansfield as defendants. Mansfield says the city is aware of the lawsuit but declined comment.

Boylan said the defendants created a hostile work environment and that Brown has been ostracized and basically frozen out, and believes it’s created dangerous conditions.

“I don’t see that any officer that has been retaliating against him is going to come to Cleon’s aid,” Boylan said.

So if proven true, what should the price tag be for the alleged misconduct?

Boylan said they want the city to provide better racial sensitivity training for officers, but that the lawsuit can only award cash.

In this case, the figure on the lawsuit is in excess of $500,000.