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Riverdale meeting airs complaints in police department

By Billy Corriher

Former and current Riverdale police officers addressed a standing-room only crowd of concerned black citizens at an NAACP town hall meeting Thursday night, telling them of discrimination and threats they faced from other officers.

Officer Phillip Neely, who came forward weeks ago saying his life had been threatened for speaking out against discrimination, told the crowd the details about a city employee saying his "safety is in jeopardy" if he came back to work.

Chief Mike Edwards, who is white, had said that Neely had retracted his claim, but Neely told the crowd Thursday night that the threat did occur.

After some complaints by officers, City Manager Billy Beckett asked the Department of Justice to conduct an inquiry into the department. The results found some perceptions of discrimination by employees, but that employees were generally satisfied with their work environments.

Susan Porter, a black former code enforcement officer for Riverdale, said she was the victim of a pattern of racism, harassment and threats. Porter sobbed uncontrollably as she told the crowd at Macedonia Baptist Church in Riverdale about threats that had been made against her life. Porter said she told her superiors about the abuse, but nothing happened.

"I'm tired of going through the chain of command and having not one thing done," she said.

Black leaders in the community have called for an investigation from the civil rights division of the Department of Justice.

But Riverdale city council members, who have been blamed by some for not taking stronger action, said they are acting on the original report to correct the problems in the police department.

Councilman Rick Scoggins noted that the council mandated diversity and cultural sensitivity training for all officers after the report came out, and the department is starting the classes next week.

Scoggins, who is black, also said he is concerned about any racism in the department, but the council and Edwards have taken strides to promote black officers and take action against allegations of racism.

"It's a situation where outside agitators are trying to make it worse," he said, referring to the civil rights groups that are leading the protests.

Scoggins said the council is looking into taking further action with the department. He said their job is complicated by the bickering between the council and Mayor Phaedra Graham, who was supposed to appoint a public safety committee of council members but has said she will not.

As calls for the city to take action have grown louder, council members also said they have received threats on their lives.

"I would hate to see one of us lose our lives because of those outside agitators coming into the situation," he said.

Radio personality Coz Carson, from WAOK 1380, has had Graham and several of the police officers alleging discrimination on his program. Carson told the crowd there needs to be action on the charges against the police department, but he emphasized the need to work together.

"We have to work toward a solution," he said. "Let's do what we can to heal this situation and move forward."