HOBBS – The Hobbs Police Department forced officers to target people of color in minority neighborhoods to make quotas, retaliated against those who complained and subjected black officers to humiliating episodes of discrimination, according to a lawsuit by three former police officers.
Lawyers for the one white and two black plaintiffs recently filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging racial discrimination and retaliation within the department.
The lawsuit says former officer Brandon Ellis, who is black, was ordered to make at least 80 traffic stops a month and encouraged to get stops on the east side of Hobbs, where most residents are black or Latino.
The lawsuit claims Ellis was told he would be written up and could be placed on an improvement program or fired If he didn’t get more stops.
Court documents also say Ellis heard another officer use a racial slur, and they say former officer Vasshawn Robinson, who is black, was excluded during his training from eating lunch with white trainees.
Jeremy Artis, who is white, joined Ellis and Robinson in the lawsuit.
“Each plaintiff endured subsequent retaliatory actions for reporting racial discrimination and for associating with one another,” the lawsuit said.
The situation led the officers to seek employment elsewhere, the lawsuit claims.
In a statement, the city of Hobbs said it had not been notified of the lawsuit.
“Once the parties have been served, the specific allegations will be appropriately reviewed and a response will occur,” the city said.
The city also said allegations of policy violations are taken seriously.
“The Hobbs Police Department has worked hard through numerous community partnerships and programs to grow relationships in our community between the department and our citizens,” the statement said. “It is unfortunate that the individuals, along with this law firm, have chosen this path to paint the Hobbs Police Department in such a negative light.”
Albuquerque civil rights attorney Shannon Kennedy, who is representing the former officers, told the Hobbs News-Sun that they now work for the Lea County Sheriff’s Office.
“The purpose of this lawsuit is more than just recognizing that these three men were targeted – it’s saying, ‘hey, how do we move forward as a community and a country’ so that police departments can actually do effective, constitutional community policing,” Kennedy told the newspaper.