SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – Officials with the San Jose Police Department are calling allegations of racism made in a suit announced Monday against the department and the city of San Jose "an unfair characterization."
Lebanese-American, Muslim-American police officer Nabil Haidar filed the suit alleging harassment and discrimination based on race, national origin and religion, saying he experienced those after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Haidar joined the Police Department in September of 1996 and graduated from the police academy in February 1997, at which time he was assigned to patrol duty, a statement from the law firm Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer, which is representing him, said.
After the historic attacks, Haidar allegedly experienced a "relentless stream" of harassment and discrimination and was regularly labeled as "Taliban," "ISIS" and "Lebanese Bomber" among others.
"Haidar kept quiet because he felt his career and advancement opportunities would be negatively impacted if he filed an internal complaint," his attorney Randall Strauss said in the statement.
A document attached to the claim alleges that the harassment escalated when the U.S. invaded Iraq. Officers allegedly asked him questions such as, "You're not going to blow up are you?" and called him the "Beirut Bomber."
It all came to a shattering crash in November of last year when police Capt. Johnson Fong was recognizing veterans during a briefing and Sgt. Robert LaBarbera allegedly called Haidar out, saying that he should be noted as an ISIS veteran because he was with ISIS for two years.
Fong allegedly laughed at the comment in front of an estimated 70 sworn officers and 12 leadership staff, Haidar's attorneys said.
At this time, Haidar filed an internal complaint and allegedly faced retaliation and was harassed in all settings. It got to the point where Haidar excused himself from daily briefings.
In January, the harassment stopped when Haidar was transferred to the Police Department's Recruitment Unit. He asked to be transferred because the facility was smaller and he knew people that worked there, according to the statement.
The lawsuit alleges that Haidar has lost all overtime opportunities now that he is working in recruitment and makes less money now, meaning that he cannot retire as early as he planned. Allegedly, his total economic loss is $1,350,000.
Attorneys representing Haidar allege that while Chief Eddie Garcia knows about the harassment and discrimination, no officers have been punished or have been ordered to apologize.
San Jose police spokeswoman Officer Gina Tepoorten said that while she could not comment on specific personnel matters or a pending lawsuit that police have not reviewed, the department's diversity is its biggest strength.
"Evidence of how we value diversity is reflected in our policies, actions and initiatives both internally and in our community," Tepoorten said.
The spokeswoman said that generally when an allegation such as this one is made, it is dealt with quickly, and if valid, severely.
Since Haidar filed the claim Monday, a confidential complaint made in 2016 by a citizen regarding a service call was allegedly leaked to news outlets, Haidar's attorneys said this afternoon.
Haidar's attorneys believe the leak could only have come from a San Jose police officer.
"The complaint was investigated and Officer Haidar accepted a one week suspension," Strauss said. "This is the only sustained complaint against Haidar in his 21-year career with the San Jose Police Department."
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