Friday, December 04, 2009

Hearing Set for Officer Justin Barrett Accused of Calling Professor "Banana-eating Jungle Monkey"

It has been four months since Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston said, “He’s gone - G-O-N-E.’’

At the time, Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis vowed that there would be a termination hearing in seven to 10 days.

But four months later, Officer Justin Barrett, who was accused of writing an e-mail that called Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. a “banana-eating jungle monkey,’’ remains on administrative leave and is still collecting his $70,500 salary.

Yesterday, three days after the Globe began asking about Barrett’s status, police scheduled the hearing for Jan. 6. They planned to serve Barrett notice of the hearing at his Hyde Park Home yesterday, according to police.

Police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said the timing was coincidental. The date was decided two days after the internal affairs investigation results were presented to the department’s lawyers and the hearing officer, Deputy Superintendent Norman Hill. According to Davis, Driscoll had been pushing for a hearing date for the past two weeks.

Barrett, who has sued the department and city contending that his civil and due process rights were violated, could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Peter T. Marano, could not be reached. A phone listed at his Boston office rang with no reply.

Barrett sent an e-mail in July responding to a Globe column by Yvonne Abraham about the controversial arrest of Gates.

In the e-mail, Barrett said that Gates, who is African-American, had behaved like a “banana-eating jungle monkey’’ when Cambridge police Sergeant James Crowley responded to his home for a report of a break-in. Gates was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct, a charge that was quickly dropped.

The Rev. Dale Robinson, a Dorchester minister, was at a press conference in August at police headquarters in Roxbury when Davis announced that Barrett would be fired following a hearing. Such action was necessary, Robinson said, in order to maintain the fragile trust between police and the city’s minority residents.

“I would like to see fairness done to the community,’’ said Robinson. “It would be hard for the community to swallow . . . if they did not carry out or go forward with what they stated they would do.’’

Davis said yesterday that he does worry about the effect the delay could have on the sometimes rocky relationship between the police and the city’s minority neighborhoods.

“Absolutely,’’ he said. “The trust with the community is paramount and what we’re trying to do here is to do this right.’’

Davis said he has not changed his mind about seeking termination for Barrett, who has not previously been disciplined during his two years at the department.

“There is nothing that I’ve seen that would change any statement that I made before on it,’’ he said.

Davis said he wanted to move forward immediately with a termination hearing, but delayed at the advice of department lawyers, who said rushing the case could help Barrett if there was an appeal.

“I’m frustrated by the process,’’ Davis said. “As egregious as this conduct is and as upset as everyone was about it, we want to make sure that [the hearing] is done properly and that it holds up in appeals.’’

Larry Ellison, a Boston detective and president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, said he understands why it has taken a long time to schedule a hearing for Barrett, who was a patrolman in the Mattapan district.

“They would have given him a better case if they had terminated him without giving him the due process he’s entitled to,’’ Ellison said.

But he said city officials should have been more careful in August when they announced they wanted Barrett fired immediately.

“You can’t come through; people are skeptical when you say you’re going to do something,’’ Ellison said.

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