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Rights panel to hear Montgomery police race case

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A former Montgomery police officer who accused the city's mayor of creating a racially hostile work environment has a hearing scheduled in January before the West Virginia Human Rights Commission.

James Wesley Ivy filed the complaint in May 2012, saying he was discriminated against because he's black, according to an order entered last week by Administrative Law Judge Robert Wilson.

According to the Human Rights Commission complaint, Ivy was hired as a full-time patrolman in October 2008.

He claims he was given the oldest and the most faulty equipment at the department. When he was promoted to lieutenant, Ivy claims, he was not given the salary increase and responsibilities that come with the rank.

Ivy also sued the department in 2010, claiming he didn't receive a 50-cents-per-hour raise after Mayor James Higgins promoted him to lieutenant the year before. He claimed former Montgomery Police Chief Greg Lawson ordered him to remove the lieutenant bars from his uniform without a demotion hearing.

That case was settled out of court a week after it was filed. The city promised to pay Ivy's back pay and an undisclosed amount in damages.

After that, Ivy said, he was given shifts that a new and inexperienced officer normally would be assigned, and that Higgins called Ivy by derogatory names to other officers.

In April 2011, Ivy was placed on administrative leave and, a week later, administrative charges were brought against him. Clifford states in his appeal that a police hearing board dismissed several of the eight charges.

The three charges that remained found Ivy guilty of falling asleep while guarding a prisoner who escaped; ignoring a citizen with a complaint and being discourteous; and failing to provide a witness list in a trial.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman found in February that Ivy wasn't wrongly fired from the department. Mike Clifford, Ivy's attorney, has appealed that decision to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

"... the Board arbitrarily accepted the testimony of clearly biased witnesses, denied [Ivy] the opportunity to effectively cross examine the City's witnesses, and interjected itself into the proceedings on behalf of the City rather than remaining neutral," Clifford wrote in the appeal of Kaufman's decision.

"The Circuit Court abused its discretion in upholding the Hearing Board's decision, when the record showed that the decision to terminate [Ivy] was not supported by the evidence."

Ivy now works for the Cedar Grove Police Department, Clifford said.

In a hearing Thursday on unemployment compensation, Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom ruled that Ivy had committed "simple misconduct" and wouldn't be eligible for benefits.

Montgomery has had civil rights complaints against its police department before.

In September 2008, then-Montgomery officers Matthew Leavitt and Shawn Hutchinson stopped Twan and Lauren Reynolds, an interracial couple, outside the city's 7-Eleven.

Leavitt hit Twan Reynolds over the head with a blackjack, kicked him in the back and shot pepper spray into his eyes at close range. He also used a racial epithet and licked Lauren Reynolds on the neck during an interrogation. Their 4-year-old daughter witnessed much of the assault.

In 2009, Leavitt was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to two federal civil rights misdemeanors. The Reynolds family settled a lawsuit with the city of Montgomery for $500,000.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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