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By Karl Fischer
Contra Costa Times

RICHMOND, Calif. - A Richmond police officer resigned Wednesday after the department received photos of him posing at a Halloween costume party with someone dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member.
A reader forwarded two photos to the Times in an e-mail Tuesday morning, both apparently depicting costume-clad people at a Halloween party. A man identified by multiple sources as Richmond police Officer Ben Murdoch appears in both photos, dressed as a rock star.
Another, unidentified man also appears in the photos, dressed in the white sheet and conical white hat of the Ku Klux Klan. In both photos, those depicted are raising their hands in an apparent mock-Nazi salute.
Police Chief Chris Magnus said he could not comment, other than to confirm that he placed Murdoch on paid leave Tuesday afternoon, when he learned of the pictures, and that Murdoch and the city parted ways Wednesday.
"If proven, that would be a punishable offense, up to and including termination," Magnus said. "It would show a complete lack of judgment, maturity and sensitivity. That is uncharacteristic of this department's personnel as a whole."
Murdoch, 27, was sworn into Richmond's police force in January. The city Web site shows that he was assigned to the patrol division, working in a beat east of Carlson Boulevard and south of Ohio Avenue, including the Laurel Park and Richmond Annex neighborhoods.
"He has the right (to free speech), but he understands that his exercise of that right creates an image of him, and of the police department," said attorney Michael Rains, who represents Murdoch. "He feels terrible. He told me, 'People don't know who I am, they don't know what I stand for.' He is sincerely sorry."
Sorry enough, Rains added, that he resigned his job during an internal affairs interview Wednesday morning. Rains said Murdoch and his roommates had a Halloween costume party Saturday night. His friend who wore the KKK costume, a Latino, evoked roars of laughter from the tight-knit group because he is an outspoken liberal and opponent of racism, Rains said.
Murdoch understands the perception problem the disclosure of the photos caused the department, Rains added.
The Richmond Police Officers Association and the department already have weathered much negative attention this year for a political campaign flier released by the union prior to Tuesday's election; the flier was widely panned as a racist stereotyping of Richmond's Latino residents.
Police administration and many Richmond officers, including the leadership of the department's minority associations, vocally condemned the flier after its release and bemoaned damage dealt to the budding relationship between city police and Richmond's growing population of Latino residents, merchants and political leaders.
Racial tension and mistrust mark the length of the Richmond Police Department's modern history. City police received national attention during the 1980s for civil rights lawsuits over the police shootings of two black men that resulted in an epic financial settlement and mandated safeguards against racism and civil rights abuses, including the formation of the Richmond Police Commission.
In 2006, several members of the department's command staff, all black, sued the city with accusations of racist treatment at the hands of Magnus and former Deputy Chief Lori Ritter. Both have denied the claims, and one of the plaintiffs dropped out of the suit this year. The case remains unresolved in Contra Costa Superior Court.

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