Plaintiff in Lawsuit Vs. F.C. Gives Talk For Police to Chamber of Commerce

The same police officer who is suing the City of Falls Church in a $10 million racial discrimination lawsuit filed last month took a high-profile position on behalf of the department Tuesday, speaking to the monthly luncheon of the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce about ways to protect against criminal activity in and around business establishments.

Derrica N. Wilson is one of four employees of the F.C. Police Department who sued the City last month. She was in the company of F.C. Acting Police Chief Capt. Harry Reitze when she spoke affably to about three dozen Chamber members Tuesday as the department’s official liaison officer to the local business community.       

But behind this friendly public outreach, Alexandria-based attorney Christopher E. Brown, representing Officer Wilson, two other City of Falls Church Police Officers and one civilian for the force in a $10 million discrimination lawsuit against the City, told the News-Press yesterday that the lawsuit is alive and well, and moving ahead.

He predicted that it would move to the “discovery” phase within a month, following amendments that will soon be added to the filing citing additional incidents alleged to have occurred since the original filing Jan. 4. The case is before the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria.

Brown said that since the City had not answered the original filing, he was able to add amendments. He confirmed what Falls Church City Attorney Roy Thorpe told the News-Press Tuesday, that the City’s attorneys had not yet officially been served.

Brown is representing police officers Markus Bristol, Frank Hicks and Wilson and police employee Carolyn Pendleton in the civil action. All were identified in the original filing as Afro-Americans, naming the City of Falls Church as the defendant.

While Brown said there were “interesting” conversations with the City prior to the Jan. 4 filing, they went nowhere. He said he’s not been in touch with attorneys representing the City since then.

At Tuesday’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Officer Wilson was present in uniform with Acting Chief Reitze and Capt. Matt Sergent, and the three seemed very friendly toward one another, including posing together for photos following the event.

Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press last month that he hoped Capt. Reitze, since taking over the department in November, had begun turning around bad morale conditions in the department.

Part of that effort, Shields said, was through giving the department more direct contact with the public in the City. Tuesday’s address to the Chamber of Commerce seemed a direct outgrowth of that initiative.

The 20-page filing by Attorney Brown last month detailed allegations of “unlawful discriminatory practices, including but not limited to discriminating against the plaintiffs on the basis of their race in compensation, assignments, and training opportunities, creating and condoning a hostile work environment, and retaliating against them for engaging in protected activity” dating to January 2002.

Much of the filing recounted instances of the use of racially-tinged comments by members of the department against the Afro-American employees.

One of the plaintiffs, Officer Bristol, is now president of the Falls Church Police Coaltion.

 Chief Reitze replaced Robert T. Murray in November after Murray had served as the chief of police here for more than 12 years. Murray came under fire from police employees for failing to act swiftly on complaints of poorly-functioning hand guns and other police equipment, among other things.

 Widespread reports of morale problems in the department had been circulating for months prior to Murrary’s decision to retire.