Web Posted July 2, 2007
Austin police commander Harold Piatt filed a reverse discrimination lawsuit against
the Austin Police Department on June 26, 2007.
In March 2006 Piatt was passed over for a promotion to the position of assistant chief by
a much less qualified Hispanic man named Charlie Oritz. Oritz had three years less
seniority than Piatt and at the time of the promotion was under sanction by the department
for substandard performance. Less than one year later Mr. Oritz's lack of
competence resulted in his being demoted. He was replaced in the post by another
According to the lawsuit, Mr. Piatt's chief, Stan Knee, "... had previously
expressed, in January of 2006, in an official meeting with no less than eighteen high
ranking department employees present, that in his selection of assistant chief, that he
would 'exercise his prerogative to maintain the racial balance' of the Austin
Police Department assistant chiefs."
lawsuit alleges that this policy, in existence since at least the mid-1980s, is
unwritten, unjustified and unlawful.
The lawsuit also states: "One beneficiary of this policy of racial set-asides,
a Hispanic officer who was promoted to assistant chief, but skipped two grades in order to
achieve this promotion, [and] was subsequently sentenced to state prison on a felony
According to 1990 and 2000 Census data, and demographic estimates for 2007, Austin has
seen a steady decline in its white population while the Hispanic population has continued
to explode. From 1990 to 2007 Hispanics went from 22.8% of Austin's population to
34.0% while the proportion of whites declined from 61.7% to 47.5%.
of Total Population:
Racial hostilities in the city are particularly intense between the black community and
the Hispanic community. In June 2007, for example, a group of blacks beat an
Hispanic man to death near a public housing complex. The blacks were returning from
a city-sponsored "Juneteenth" celebration, an important black holiday
commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas. The Hispanic
man whom they kicked and beat to death had been a passenger in a car that had accidentally
bumped a small child. The child was not injured.
|[White] Austin police commander sues, claiming racial
Austin Statesman story
comes after he was bypassed for promotion.
Original story by Tony Plohetski AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
"A veteran Austin police commander [Commander Harold Piatt, who has a spotless
employment record] has sued City Manager Toby Futrell, former Police Chief Stan Knee and
incoming Police Chief Art Acevedo, saying he was denied a promotion to assistant chief
because he is white.
"Cmdr. Harold Piatt claims in the seven-page suit
filed late Tuesday [June 26, 2007] in U.S. District Court that he was the victim of
a years-long police department practice of 'racial set-asides for positions for assistant
"Piatt, who now supervises the department's homicide unit, said that he was the most
qualified person in the department for the job last year but that the position was given
to Cmdr. Charlie Ortiz, who is Hispanic. Piatt has been with the department
since 1979, three years longer than Ortiz.
"Acting Police Chief Cathy Ellison demoted Ortiz to the rank of commander in January
but has not publicly stated the reason for her decision.
"Ortiz has since filed a complaint with the city's civil service commission, saying
that Ellison retaliated against him for defending an officer's use of force and that his
job performance had never been questioned.
"In his [reverse discrimination] suit, Piatt said [former Police Chief Stan] Knee
told a group of commanders in a January 2006 meeting that he would 'exercise his
prerogative to maintain the racial balance' among assistant police chiefs.
" 'The Austin Police Department has a longstanding policy of employing racial
set-asides for positions of police chief,' the suit said. 'This policy, in existence since
at least the mid-1990s, is unwritten, unjustified and unlawful.' "
"[Piatt's] suit also claims that Austin City Council members weigh in on assistant
chief appointments, which is in violation of the city charter.
"Piatt declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday. He said Acevedo was named
as a 'replacement defendant' for Knee, who is now working as a mentor to the minister of
the interior in Afghanistan. -30-
-- Last known link to
Below are key excerpts from the legal complaint Piatt filed in U.S. District Court.
"Plaintiff Piatt, an Austin police officer since 1979 and an Austin Police Commander
since January of 2000, was denied promotion to Assistant Chief of Police by Austin Police
Chief Stanley L. Knee (hereinafter Knee) on or about March 19, 2006. ... Knee
made his decision not to promote Piatt based on Piatts race, in violation of federal
statutes, and the federal and Texas Constitutions."
"[Chief] Knee promoted instead one Charlie Ortiz, a Hispanic officer with less
experience at all levels than Officer Piatt. Mr. Piatt was, at the time, the most
qualified officer in the City of Austin Police Department for this promotion. Moreover, at
the time Officer Ortiz was promoted, Officer Ortiz was subject to a 'performance
improvement plan,' an internal City of Austin Police Department mechanism for improving
the substandard performance of its officers. ... Ortiz was subsequently demoted in
January of 2007, and replaced by Leo Enriquez.
"Chief Knee had previously expressed, in January of 2006, in an official meeting with
no less than eighteen high ranking department employees present, that in his selection of
assistant chief, that he would 'exercise his prerogative to maintain the racial balance'
of the Austin Police Department assistant chiefs.
"The Austin Police Department has a longstanding policy of employing racial setasides
for positions for assistant chief. This policy, in existence since at least the
mid-1980s, is unwritten, unjustified and unlawful. One beneficiary of this
policy of racial set-asides, a Hispanic officer who was promoted to assistant chief, but
skipped two grades in order to achieve this promotion, was subsequently sentenced to state
prison on a felony conviction.
"This policy of racially set-aside appointments to senior management positions in the
Austin Police Department is not only harmful to individual officers, but, because it
places persons in senior positions without regard to who is best qualified, this policy
has the potential to negatively affect public safety."
"Plaintiff suffered the following injuries as a direct and proximate result of
"(a) Plaintiff was denied promotion to
Assistant Chief, resulting in lost pay and benefits.
"(b) Plaintiff suffered damage to his
pension or retirement benefits
"(c) Plaintiff was compelled to hire
legal representation and file this lawsuit to vindicate his rights, incurring legal
expenses as a result."
"Piatt respectfully requests that the Court enjoin defendants to pay Piatt the
difference in pay between Commander and Assistant Chief from February 2003 through his
retirement (currently anticipated in June 2009), to pay his retirement package and salary
at the rate appropriate to an Assistant Chiefs promoted to that position on March
19, 2006, and asks that the Court further enjoin the defendants to make all future
promotions regardless of rank based on merit and performance and not racial set-asides,
and grant Piatt attorneys fees, exemplary damages, and costs incurred in prosecuting
this suit, and such other and further relief as he may be justly entitled at law or
Download the entire legal
(Adobe Acrobat Reader required).
Commander Harold Piatt is being represented by attorneys David Rogers and Steven Smith of
the Texas Legal Foundation.
The Texas Legal Foundation has an impressive history of advocating for indidivual rights,
and played a key role in the historic Hopwood v. Texas decision which outlawed
racial preferences in scholarships and admissions at Texas universities from 1996 until
END Case 52:
White Austin, TX Police Officer Sues
for Reverse Discrimination