PITTSBURGH – A black man contends he was fired at the end of his 18-month probationary period as a state trooper for false claims that he didn’t properly write reports and sometimes used Ebonics in doing so, according to a federal lawsuit.
The federal lawsuit was filed Tuesday on behalf of William Peake, 29, of Sewickley, who graduated from the police academy in May 2009 and soon after was stationed at the Uniontown barracks, which his attorney contends employs nearly all white troopers.
Peake was required to sign a termination letter contending he was let go for a “lack of solid job knowledge and basic police skills” and other “officer/public safety concerns” not spelled out in that letter in November 2010. According to the lawsuit, the reasons for Peake’s firing have “no substantial basis in fact, and are not worthy of belief.”
State police spokeswoman Maria Finn said the agency doesn’t comment on litigation. Peake is not suing any police officials in particular, only the state police and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The lawsuit contends Peake was one of four black officers out of about 75 in his police academy class and the state police have a “policy and practice of not hiring a sufficient number of African-Americans into trooper positions.
“Plaintiff was judged by different and more harsh standards than other probationary troopers, because of his race,” the lawsuit contends. Peake claims a white trooper at the same barracks had his probationary period extended, received more “coaching and mentoring” than Peake and remains a trooper.
Finn said 6.6 percent of Pennsylvania’s roughly 4,150 state troopers are nonwhite, including 3.9 percent who are black. U.S. Census Bureau data shows blacks account for just more than 11 percent of Pennsylvania’s population.
Peake’s attorney, James Logan of Pittsburgh, cited a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that found minorities are underrepresented in police departments.
“It’s a complex problem,” Logan said. “Here you have a guy who did very well at the training academy and wanted to be a state police officer more than anything; he just burned to do it.”
Logan said the termination has made it difficult for Peake to find other police jobs. He’s employed in a nonpolice job for less pay and benefits than he earned as a trooper, Logan said, declining to release other details.
“There’s an emotional distress component that comes into this as well,” he said. “He comes from a family of police officers. For him to be terminated from a job like this, it’s embarrassing to him.”
Peake’s lawsuit seeks reinstatement, back pay and unspecified monetary damages. Mostly, Peake wants a chance to prove himself, Logan said.
“The last bit of time in his employment, he had been restricted to desk work,” he said. “How is that giving him an opportunity to perform his job?”