AUSTIN (KXAN) — An ongoing federal lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety and its Director Steven McCraw raises concerning claims about the culture and environment inside DPS.
Three DPS officers — two African American officers assigned to different units, and a Hispanic officer — all continue to work for the agency they are suing.
The lawsuit alleges these officers have been subjected to years of hostile work environments involving racism, discrimination, unlawful retaliation, and/or harassment, court records state.
KXAN reached out to DPS and the attorney representing the department for a comment regarding the allegations made in the lawsuit.
DPS stated it does not discuss pending litigation and the attorney has yet to respond to our request. The attorneys representing DPS and Director McCraw have not yet filed a formal response to the allegations made by the plaintiffs in this case.
The attorney representing the three officers is Leonard Mungo, a Michigan-based civil and employment law attorney who specializes in police reform and “rooting out institutional racism from our law enforcement agencies,” according to his website.
Plaintiff: Officer Jari McPherson
According to the lawsuit, Jari McPherson has been a DPS officer for more than 20 years.
In 2018, McPherson was transferred from Austin to a unit in Temple, Texas, where he was the only African American officer in the unit, according to court records.
After the transfer, court records state he “was subject to numerous instances of outrageous and abusive treatment.”
Among the 59 items listed in the lawsuit detailing McPherson’s alleged experiences was an incident involving a supervisor who was accused of circulating racially offensive pictures on work phones during work hours.
The pictures consisted of the supervisor wearing a “Hitler Mustache” and another with a white co-worker visibly wearing black socks with the attached comment “Black Socks Matter,” mocking the “Black Lives Matter” movement, court records state.
Some additional examples outlined in the lawsuit included multiple instances where McPherson said he was disciplined while his white co-workers were allowed to continue the same or similar actions, and has been “deprived of benefits, assignments acknowledgement, compensation, terms, conditions, and privileges.”
According to court records, McPherson informed his supervisors and other high-level command staff about these instances. The record also said McPherson filed a five-page Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint with DPS’s Office of Inspector General, or OIG.
Approximately five months after filing the OIG complaint, McPherson learned that none of his complaints were sustained by that office, court records said. That means the office did not find enough evidence to support the claim that policies were violated.
McPherson transferred back to Austin, and according to the lawsuit his Austin command was made aware of his discrimination and harassment complaints against the Temple officers.
“This racially offensive and hostile work environment was not addressed, restricted, nor rectified, and instead has been effectively cultivated, encouraged, and maintained by the TxDPS Austin,” court records state.
McPherson said in the lawsuit he believes other officers have been victimized by being subjected to the “Racially Hostile Environment” at DPS.
Plaintiff: Officer Daniel Martinez
Daniel Martinez, a Hispanic officer, has been with DPS for more than 15 years, court records show.
According to the lawsuit, Martinez transferred to Austin and was assigned to the same unit as co-plaintiff McPherson, which is when he said he witnessed discrimination.
Martinez noticed his supervisor assigned all the non-white officers to one unit and would impose disparately heavier workloads and conditions to that unit compared to the others, court records state.
Furthermore, the lawsuit stated the same supervisor approached Martinez shortly after his transfer, and informed him of McPherson’s complaints of race discrimination in Temple.
Martinez’ supervisor stated McPherson’s complaints were “b.s,” according to the lawsuit.
Martinez filed verbal complaints about the racial discrimination, but said the supervisor never responded. In June 2020, Martinez filed a formal complaint with the DPS OIG representative, the lawsuit claims.
Martinez was not contacted about his complaints of racial discrimination until 2022 when DPS filed a motion to dismiss Martinez’s lawsuit in federal court, according to court records. A judge denied that motion.
After filing the complaints, Martinez was denied multiple opportunities for promotions within the agency compared to others with less experience and was disparately criticized compared to others, the lawsuit stated.
Plaintiff: Officer Jerald Sams
Jerald Sams has been a DPS officer for more than 26 years, according to court records.
In 2017, while working on the DPS Mounted Patrol Unit, Sams’ leadership decisions were questioned when he was accused of overworking the white officers in his unit, court records stated.
According to the lawsuit, Sams was a corporal at the time and had no supervisory authority over any of the troopers in his unit. As a result of the accusations, Sams was demoted with no explanation or justification, the lawsuit said.
Shortly after the demotion, Sams was accused of attempting to turn the DPS Mounted Unit into a “Buffalo Soldiers Unit” and told “can’t you see what the perception is with all these African Americans that are on the Mounted Unit,” court records show.
Months after these comments were made, a captain took a picture of Sams trimming a horse’s hooves, texted the image to a friend, and while laughing read a message stating “I have never seen a black man doing that before,” the lawsuit stated.
According to the lawsuit, Sams filed a formal complaint against the captain in 2018. Approximately 15 months later, Sams received a response from DPS OIG informing him his complaint of racial discrimination against the captain was sustained. The court documents do not outline the result of that decision.
After filing complaints against the captain, Sams applied for promotions on two separate occasions. The hiring supervisor was the same captain Sams complained about.
Both applications were denied and the positions were awarded to less experienced and less qualified candidates, one of which had no experience with horses, the lawsuit stated.
On Dec. 15, the ongoing lawsuit will have been open for two years. Since the case was filed, numerous deadline extensions and motions have been filed, and several amendments to the plaintiffs’ complaints have been made.