campus police, University of Washington police department, racial discrimination lawsuit

University Of Washington Police Department Guilty Of Rampant Discrimination, Officers Awarded $16 Million

A Black female UW police officer said she found a banana and a racist note near her locker.

On Dec. 21, a Kings County jury found the University of Washington liable for racist discrimination enacted by its university police department against five Black police officers. The officers were awarded $16 million.

The Seattle Times reported the six-week trial featured testimony from dozens of witnesses, including university president Ana Mari Cauce. Witnesses detailed various depictions of hostility and racism directed at the officers from their superiors.

“The University of Washington has turned a blind eye to the problems in its police department for far too long,” Toby Marshall, an attorney for the five officers, told The Seattle Times. “Our hope—and our clients’ hope—is that UW can no longer look away.”

“Our attorneys are reviewing options for our next steps, including the potential for an appeal,” the university said in a statement. “This case alleged issues that took place largely under previous leadership and went unreported through official channels.”

There were several clearly racist incidents detailed in the lawsuit, including one instance where a Black female police officer found a banana and a racist note near her locker as well as the use of racist slurs by department supervisors. According to the lawsuit, UW knew about these issues in its police department for years, but did little to nothing to address the problems. 

After a group of white officers succeeded in getting the department’s first Black police chief removed from his post, complaining that he was hiring too many Black police officers, the lawsuit alleged that a university probe into the department failed to even consider racism as a motivating factor in their conduct and complaints. 

In all, the 33-page long complaint contained 100 incidents of conduct, which the officers described as “rampant, pervasive discrimination and retaliation” coming from both superiors and fellow police officers. The lawsuit alleged that the department fostered a racist culture dating back decades, which was made worse when it hired John Vinson as the first Black chief in 2009. According to the lawsuit, “Their campaign eventually succeeded, and Vinson was forced out.”

The University of Washington won a previous trial in 2010, which officers brought in 2008, alleging rampant racial and sexual discrimination in the department.

The plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit were Hamani Nowlen, Russell Ellis, Gabriel Golden, Damien Taylor, and Karinn Young, who had been the department’s only Black woman officer during the time frame of the lawsuit.

Of the five officers, only Nowlen, whom the lawsuit alleged had a window shot out of his home in August 2021, shortly after the lawsuit was filed, is still with the department. 

RELATED CONTENT: NMSDC, University of Washington Foster School of Business Announce Partnership