Friday, March 16, 2001

Bias complaint upheld

Dog custody was part of ex-officer's case

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ero the police dog was a pioneer in Lincoln Heights.

        As the first and only member of the village's canine unit, the German shepherd tracked down dozens of drug suspects and helped with more than 40 arrests.

        But Ero's most lasting legacy may be the unusual discrimination case that arose last year after police officials fired his handler and eliminated the canine program.

[photo] Joe Euton, with Ero, won a settlement from Lincoln Heights after he was fired. The former canine officer claimed discrimination.
(Enquirer file photo)
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        Former officer Joseph Euton, the dog's handler, accused his bosses of treating him unfairly because he was a white officer in a predominantly African-American police department. He said he was denied promotions that went to less qualified officers.

        An investigation by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission found “probable cause” to support Mr. Euton's claims.

        Mr. Euton says the commission's finding proves that racial bias can cut both ways in the workplace.

        But cases of reverse discrimination are rare compared to the thousands of claims involving discrimination against African Americans or other minorities.

        The Civil Rights Commission launched 5,000 investigations last year and found probable cause for the complaints in 250 cases. Of those 250, only a handful involved reverse discrimination.

    • History: A Mill Creek Valley community incorporated in 1946 as a residential area for black workers.
    • Current population: 4,805 (4,766 black, 39 white).
    • Median household income: $14,698.
    • Community/land use: 45 percent of the 0.74-square-mile village is residential; 7.7 percent industrial; 19.3 percent public-institutional; 21.4 percent vacant; remainder has other use.
    • 2000 budget: $1.33 million.
   Source: Enquirer research
        “It does happen, but it's not a significant category,” said commission spokesman Mark Kautzmann. “It's not frequent.”

        Mr. Euton says that's why his case is significant.

        Despite the commission's findings, officials in the virtually all-black village deny Mr. Euton's allegations. They say the case is little more than a custody fight over the police dog.

        Mr. Euton wanted to keep the dog after he was fired last year. The village wanted Ero back.

        The village settled the case last month, agreeing to pay Mr. Euton $2,400 in back pay and another $1,000 in overtime and “canine maintenance.” Mr. Euton gets to keep the dog.

        “We believe there is no merit to the discrimination claim,” said Matt Fellerhoff, an attorney for the village.

        He said the village settled the claim because it was cheaper to pay Mr. Euton than to fight the case. About 80 percent of civil rights cases with probable cause findings are settled or resolved without a court hearing.

        If the village had not settled, the case would have been decided by an administrative judge.

        Mr. Euton was a part-time officer when the village fired him for failing to follow a direct order. Mr. Euton then filed a complaint claiming he had been passed over for several promotions because of his race.

        Commission investigators found that one of the officers promoted ahead of Mr. Euton was not yet eligible for the job.

        “There is sufficient evidence to substantiate that (Mr. Euton) was subjected to disparate treatment based upon his race,” the investigators wrote.

        Mr. Fellerhoff said the village disputes that allegation.

        “We disagreed and we were willing to fight,” Mr. Fellerhoff said. “But it was not worth the cost.”

        He said he did not know the current racial makeup of the police department. Village officials referred comment to Mr. Fellerhoff.

        Mr. Euton said his goal was not to prove discrimination, but to make sure the dog stayed with him. Ero trained with Mr. Euton and lived with him during the year they worked together at the police department.

        Mr. Euton said both he and the dog are looking for new jobs.

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