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By Tim McGlone
The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK, Va. - The Virginia Beach Police Department is evaluating the results of an internal investigation into reports that certain officers use racial epithets on the job.
A police officer who gave a deposition in a civil rights lawsuit filed against the city by the Oceanfront bar Hammerheads said he and other officers use the slurs on the job , specifically while patrolling the busy bar district along Atlantic Avenue, to describe black people.
The Hammerheads case is scheduled to go to trial Thursday in U.S. District Court. Bar owners claim the city has unwritten policies designed to discriminate against the club and its largely minority patrons, all in a wider effort to rid the Oceanfront area known as "t he b lock" of the noisy nightclubs.
Hammerheads owners Andy Edwards and Louie Ochave are seeking $8 million in damages and wholesale changes in the way police patrol the 2100 block of Atlantic Ave.
A federal judge has already said Hammerheads has difficult obstacles to cross, even with evidence of racial biases.
"You've got a tough road," Judge Robert G. Doumar told Hammerheads' attorney, Kevin Martingayle, during an Oct. 14 hearing.
The judge said Martingayle must show that the city has policies in place that discriminate against minorities. Martingayle said he's confident he can.
"I think you will be astonished at what you hear," Martingayle told the judge.
He said he has discovered written and unwritten policies from the city manager, the police chief and City Council members that show a pattern of discrimination.
Before he can proceed to trial, Martingayle first must overcome the city's request to have the case thrown out. On Tuesday, Doumar will consider a motion by the city to dismiss the case for a lack of evidence. If that fails, the trial will begin Thursday.
The city has repeatedly denied the allegations and refuses to settle the case. In addition, Hammerheads can't show it has suffered from city policies and in fact has seen increased revenues the past three years, according to the city's court filings.
"If we paid them any money, then we would have to change our police tactics," the city's private attorney, Hunter S. Sims, told Doumar. "We believe it's dangerous down there."
In pretrial depositions of a city police officer and other witnesses, Martingayle said he discovered that officers use racial epithets while patrolling t he b lock.
"Have you ever heard any officer use any racially derogatory language?" Martingayle asked city police Officer Steven J. Kennedy during an Aug. 21 deposition.
"Sure I have," Kennedy responded. "Racial slurs. I mean, we've, we've heard it. I mean, we'd be lying to say otherwise. We've all - we all - we've all done it unfortunately, from time to time."
When pressed further about specific words used, Kennedy said, "the most obvious one would be reference to *******."
He added, however, that use of the derogatory term was not widespread.
He went on to say that two sergeants he's worked with at the Oceanfront have also used such derogatory language, but he added that he doesn't believe this makes them "racially biased in any way, shape or form."
"We all say things sometimes in the heat of the moment, but I don't see any of my fellow officers that I work with or that I'm familiar with that I would label as a racist," he said in his deposition.
All other police officers Martingayle took depositions from, including the two sergeants, denied ever using derogatory language while patrolling the Oceanfront. And Kennedy later amended his deposition to say that he meant the slurs were only used privately between the officers.
Other witnesses, however, corroborated what Kennedy said.
Danford Taitague, who is black and works as a doorman at Crazy Charlie's next to Hammerheads, told Martingayle during his deposition that he's heard police officers use "boy" and "chicken eater" and other derogatory terms toward him and others who are black.
"If it's a white person, they'll go, ' Excuse me, miss or sir,'\" he said.
Carlos Cook, a Hammerheads manager, said in his deposition that he's heard police officers refer to blacks as "boy."
The depositions were taken by video and are expected to be used at the trial.
Martingayle said he's obtained other evidence and testimony indicating that the city manager, City Council members, the 2nd Precinct captain and other officials are aware of the officers' use of racial slurs and have done nothing about it.
He says in court filings that the slurs, heavy-handed enforcement efforts, the use of spotlights, blaring easy listening music and severe parking restrictions are all part of a city effort to rid t he b lock of the rowdy bars that attract young people. The city has made it clear, he argues, that it wants to redevelop the area into a more family-friendly environment.
Second Precinct Capt. Tony Zucaro, who oversees Oceanfront operations, said the administration launched an internal investigation after being made aware of Kennedy's testimony.
"As an organization, the Virginia Beach Police Department takes these comments and concerns very seriously," Zucaro said. "We immediately conducted an internal review and are currently evaluating our findings."
He could not say whether the results would be made public.
He added that he's confident the city will prevail in the federal lawsuit.
"We're looking forward to having the matter resolved. We look forward to having all the facts heard," he said.
"We stand behind our position and our policing tactics."

 
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