Fired black officer may expand lawsuit, judge rules

An officer who claims he was discriminated against at work and in his firing from the Whitley County Sheriff’s Office may expand his lawsuit to name former Sheriff Mark Hodges, a federal judge has ruled.

Terrance McKinney was hired as the only African-American merit officer in the northern Indiana county in 2013, but he was fired less than a year later. Hodges claimed McKinney submitted false work hours and didn’t follow procedures for fueling vehicles and filing monthly reports.

But McKinney alleged an officer used a racial slur in front of him and others refused to speak to him or train him. He also alleged he was held to a different disciplinary standard than other officers.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana granted summary judgment to the Columbia City-based sheriff’s office and Deputy Sheriff Tony Helfrich, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded last August. The 7th Circuit found the district dourt had abused its discretion and there was “no valid ground” for its refusal to consider McKinney’s evidence.

On Monday, Northern District Judge William C. Lee granted McKinney’s motion to amend his complaint to include Hodges as a defendant in the racial discrimination suit. Lee also denied McKinney’s motion to pursue equal protection claims and ruled McKinney’s amended complaint would not relate back to the filing of his original complaint.

In his second amended complaint, McKinney alleges he was retaliated against after he reported a racial slur to Hodges and informed him he was being “warehoused” — isolated from the rest of the department without training.

The revised complaint further alleges that a white deputy hired the same day as McKinney was treated more favorably despite a complaint for texting while driving and a chargeable property damage accident. The complaint alleges McKinney was told that officers could not work overtime in their probationary first year on the job, but the white officer hired when he started was allowed to work a significant amount of overtime in his first year.

A revised trial date has not been set in the case, Terrance S. McKinney v. The Office of the Sheriff of Whitley County, Indiana, 1:15-cv-79.

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