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AMSTERDAM — An officer who worked for the city for 12 years has sued the Amsterdam Police Department, alleging that he faced racial discrimination throughout his career that led to his termination in April.
Alan Drake, who is Black, is seeking his reinstatement as an officer with full benefits and lost wages. He is additionally seeking unspecified damages and an award for attorney’s fees.
The civil lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York on Drake’s behalf by attorney Vincent Uba of Albany on May 25.
Uba on Monday said Drake is seeking to clear his name and return to his chosen profession.
“Part of the termination means [Drake] lost his accreditation as a police officer,” Uba said. “He wants to make things right.”
The suit names as defendants the Amsterdam Police Department, the Amsterdam Police Benevolent Association, former police Chief Gregory Culick, current Chief John Thomas and officers Thomas Hennessy, Thomas Nethaway and Leon Pratt.
City Attorney Anthony Casale said Bryan Goldberger, the city’s labor attorney, was handling the case. Goldberger could not be reached by this story’s deadline.
Drake alleges he faced racial discrimination from the time he was hired by the department on Jan. 5, 2009.
At the time he joined the force, a lawsuit was pending against the city and then-police Chief Thomas Brownell filed by a female officer of Puerto Rican descent alleging racial, religious and sexual discrimination. That suit was settled in 2011 under terms that were kept confidential.
The lawsuit brought by Drake states that White officers within the department repeatedly told him that he was hired as a “show piece” due to the previous discrimination lawsuit.
In the suit, Drake says he received inadequate training and was “thrown out to work nights” without ever being taught how to prepare a basic complaint. Drake alleges he was not allowed to drive a police vehicle during his training, “unlike all the other White police officers in training.” “As a result of this lack of training, the other White police officers would speak very poorly and negatively of Drake behind his back. These White police officers would call Drake ‘stupid’ and ‘not smart,’” according to the lawsuit.
Officers within the department allegedly displayed White supremacist symbols at the station and on their person, including one officer who allegedly had a tattoo on his wrist of SS lightning bolts, a historic symbol of Nazi Germany.
The lawsuit alleges Drake faced additional harassment due to his race from the other officers and complained to superiors, former Mayor Ann Thane and current Mayor Michael Cinquanti about the racially hostile work environment on multiple occasions throughout his career.
As his career continued, the suit says, Drake was denied benefits and privileges provided to other White officers based on their seniority. He was allegedly not allowed to work the afternoon desk, provide ride-alongs to new junior officers or work special details in the community. He was also passed over by detectives for unqualified junior officers when support services were required, the suit says.
According to the lawsuit, Drake was written up several times for “spurious and unwarranted” reasons, including in at least three instances last year between Sept. 16 and Oct. 1. The suit lays out one write-up following a poor performance review reportedly for failing to issue enough traffic tickets despite the department’s policy stipulating that there are no quotas for ticketing.
‘Last chance agreement’
Drake was additionally the subject of a “last chance agreement” with the department in 2017 based on charges the lawsuit alleges were “trumped-up.” The lawsuit claims Drake was not provided representation by the PBA during the negotiation process with members of the department, and was not provided with copies of the charges against him or the related evidence as required by law.
Drake alleges he was threatened with termination and criminal charges if he refused to sign the agreement. When he complied, it resulted in a 45 day suspension without pay and a forfeiture of 360 hours of accrued paid leave time, the suit says.
The charges related to that accusation were apparently first presented to Drake some time later during a state Division of Human Rights investigation. According to the lawsuit, the allegations were “patently false” and the statute of limitations had run out on the charges when the agreement was issued.
The exact nature of the incident is not fully explained in the lawsuit, which says the charges centered on “Drake having sex with White ladies who reside in the city of Amsterdam” and reportedly did not “have much” to do with Drake’s position as an officer.
The lawsuit alleges that following the appointment of Thomas as police chief in June 2020, Thomas threatened to take five days of pay from Drake for matters that had apparently been resolved under the former chief.
In September, Thomas allegedly sent Drake messages stating that he should resign or would face termination under a clause in the 2017 “last chance agreement” allowing for his immediate dismissal following arbitration for any violation of the department’s rules and regulations.
In December, the suit says, Drake received a notice of discipline for allegedly taking 30 minutes to respond to a non-emergency call Sept. 3. The call reportedly involved a mother and daughter who were arguing over the ownership of a duffle bag. The individuals were apparently known to police for making multiple calls to police over civil disputes and the dispatcher allegedly advised Drake to take his time.
Drake was suspended without pay after receiving the notice and was terminated April 26 after a disciplinary hearing before an arbitrator.
Despite the treatment he allegedly faced as an officer, Drake is interested in returning to his position with the Amsterdam Police Department in order to contribute to changing the environment of the workplace, Uba said.
“He doesn’t want to throw in the towel and give up on the city, because it’s just not right. [Drake] feels extremely hurt the way he has been treated, but he still believes change will come. He doesn’t believe it is sufficient to collect money and walk away,” Uba said.
When asked if Drake ever sought employment elsewhere during his 12-year tenure with the city police, Uba said his client had applied for other positions unsuccessfully, citing the 2017 last chance agreement as the cause.
Uba did not discuss the particulars of the charges that led to the agreement when asked, saying those details will be fully addressed as the case proceeds through the court.
Although Drake never previously filed a lawsuit related to the allegations of racial discrimination, Uba said his client filed a complaint with the NAACP after signing the last chance agreement and suggested he did not receive sufficient guidance at the time to take further legal steps.