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Details Emerge That The City Of Lake Wales Used Outside Firm To Investigate Racism Allegations Against Police Chief

By Carl Fish

Lake Wales, Florida – The Daily Ridge prompted by recent events requested and was granted an opportunity to review the investigation into the allegations of racism in its promotional practices of Chief Christopher Velazquez regarding a recent Lieutenant position. That investigation preceded the actions of the city manager to first suspend/look for a replacement of Chief Velazquez (story here: Suspension/Termination) and then a reinstatement and no termination this past Tuesday night (story here: Reinstatement).

Editors Note: The desire of the Daily Ridge is to give you the factual details. So in the interest of transparency here is the entire report and below photos as proof no details are left out. It should be noted that the below information is expounded from what was in the memorandum that Sandra Davis the Human Resource Manager produced. We are currently trying to verify why the posting was extended. We have been advised if they didn’t change the job posting it would have discriminated against a female officer, but we have not confirmed. We will continue to investigate and bring you the FACTS. We have enough partisan blocks spewing false information.

ALLEN NORTON & BLUE

PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION

REPORT OF FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS REGARDING

POLICE LIEUTENANT

PROMOTIONAL DECISIONS

February 26, 2024

Submitted by:

Brian Koii

ALLEN NORTON & BLUE, P.A.

324 S. Hyde Park Ave., Suite 225

Tampa, Florida 33618

Page 1 of 6

February 26, 2024

City of Lake Wales

201 W. Central Avenue

Lake Wales, Florida 33853

Re: Findings and Conclusions Concerning 2024 Promotional Police Lieutenant

Promotion Decisions:

In February 2024, the City of Lake Wales retained Allen Norton & Blue to review allegations raised regarding the propriety of recently completed Police Lieutenant promotions.

Please accept this correspondence as our report of the findings and conclusions of that investigation.

This inquiry originated after a local community organization, the Poor Minority Justice Association, submitted a complaint on February 8, 2024, asserting that the recent promotional decisions were impermissibly motivated by the candidates’ race. In response to these allegations, the City immediately ordered a review of the promotional process and the decisions. The City’s Human Resources Director was tasked with interviewing all relevant witnesses and gathering the pertinent facts. Those statements and facts were subsequently reviewed and analyzed by the undersigned to determine if the allegations of racial discrimination were credible.

As detailed below, this investigation determined that there was no supporting evidence establishing that the recent promotional decisions were based on any candidate’s race.

Notwithstanding, the procedure employed by the Police Department to select the successful candidates for promotion in this instance deviated somewhat from the process used in the past, which, in conjunction with the decision to permit James Hampton to apply for the position despite not yet having obtained his degree, gave the process an appearance of unfairness. As a consequence, we recommend that the City revisit the decision to promote Hampton after devising a formal promotional process approved by the City Manager.

Allegations Raised

The complaint from the Poor Minority Justice Association alleged, in relevant part (italics):

Recently, our office has been in receipt of complaints, in regard to discriminative practices in the procedures concerning promotions within the Lake Wales Police

Page 2 of 6

Department. On October 30, 2023, Lieutenant Stephanie Goreck produced an email inviting sergeants to apply for an open lieutenant position. The memo gave specific directives expressing the requirements and deadlines for submitting an application for this promotion. Although Sergeant James Hampton did not qualify according to general order 3.05, he was allowed to apply. This is inconsistent with the policies of promotion as ascribed by the Lake Wales Police Department.

We are concerned that there is an element of untruth on his behalf and discrimination actions on the department’s behalf. We also have determined, based upon the information that we have received, that neither sergeant that were promoted had met the qualifications, unlike their black counterparts had.

During the course of this investigation, Sgt. Alvin Maultsby also raised a concern that his race had played a role in the promotional decision.

Applicable Policies General Order 3.05 (March 2020) governs promotions to the position of Police Lieutenant.

That General Order prescribes that, “[a]s an administrative position, the promotion will be made by appointment of the Chief of Police.” While the General Order does not mandate a specific procedure to be used, it does require that the process “be standardized and provide a fair and equitable means of advancement for all members who participate.” It further requires that the “promotional process be job related and non-discriminatory.”

Regarding the qualifications for the position of Police Lieutenant, General Order 3.05 requires that candidates hold the position of Sergeant, have completed an A.A. or A.S. degree, and have completed the CJSTC Middle Management course.

The City’s personnel policies prohibits “illegal discrimination in employment, employment opportunities or job actions on the basis of race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, legally recognized disability, political affiliation, or marital status[.]” PAP, §2-201.06.

Investigation Process

In addition to reviewing the pertinent policies, emails, and documents, the following individuals were interviewed over the course of several days by the Human Resources Director with the relevant information subsequently shared with the undersigned:

Edward Palmer

Alvin Maultsby

Emmanuel Figueroa

William Raebig

William Smith

Terry Schulze

Stephanie Goreck

James Hampton

Troy Schulze

Page 3 of 6

Chris Velasquez

Findings and Conclusions

A. The allegations of racial discrimination are unfounded.

This investigation did not uncover any evidence that race was a factor in the decisions to promote James Hampton or Andrew Brown.

Both federal and state law make it unlawful to fail to promote a candidate because of race.

See Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000-2(a); Florida Civil Rights Act, S 760.10(1)(a), Fla. Stat. To establish a claim of unlawful racial discrimination, it must be shown that an unsuccessful candidate was qualified for the position but that a candidate of a different race received the position and the decision was motivated by race. Griffin v. City of Demorest, 635 Fed Appx. 701 (11th Cir. 2015). Assuming the emplover articulates a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the promotional decision, the complainant has the burden of proving both that the employer’s reason is false and that racial discrimination was the real reason for the decision. Blue v. Dunn Const. Co., Inc., 453 Fed.Appx. 881, 884 (1 1th Cir. 2011) (citing St. Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, Si5 (1993)). As the courts have repeatedly made clear, this inquiry “centers upon the employer’s beliefs, and not the [complainant’s] own perceptions.1” Jackson v. Agency for Persons with Disabilities Fla., 608 F. App’x 740, 742 (1 1th Cir. 2015).

In this inquiry, the Police Chief and Deputy Police Chief articulated legitimate, non-discriminatory, job-related reasons for the decisions. Nobody who was interviewed could provide any support showing that any candidate’s race played a role in the decision to promote Brown and Hampton. Although it is apparent that Maultsby and the Poor Minority Justice Association genuinely believe that race played a decisive role, there was no evidence that that belief is supported by any evidence. As a consequence, we find this allegation to be unfounded.

Moreover, contrary to the allegations of the complaint submitted by the Poor Minority Justice Association, it is apparent that both Brown and Hampton were qualified to perform the duties of the Lieutenant position, as were the unsuccessful candidates. In this instance, the Chief concluded that Brown and Hampton were the most qualified candidates and, as noted above, there is no evidence that any candidates’ race played a role in those decisions.

B. Based on the appearance of a potential unfairness, the City should consider redoing the promotional process as to decision to promote James Hampton.

Although we did not uncover any evidence of impermissible race discrimination, the inquiry did uncover circumstances which could lead the participants and others to question the fairness of the process. In particular, the facts established that, on October 30, 2023, the Police Department, through Lt. Stephanie Goreck, initially announced the vacancy in the Lieutenant positions. At that time, interested candidates were instructed to submit a memorandum and resume by November 3, 2023. Candidates were further instructed that their memorandum “needs to express your interest in being appointed to the position of Lieutenant, the fact that you meet all policy requirements and anything else you would like to include.” As noted above, the minimum requirements for the position included that each candidate hold the position of Sergeant, have completed an A.A. or A.S. degree, and have completed the CJSTC Middle Management course.

Page 4 of 6

The next day, on October 31, 2023, Lt. Goreck sent out an email changing and clarifying the promotional requirements. In particular, the deadline to submit the memorandum and resume was changed to November 10, 2023, and the directive was clarified to make it clear that candidates who did not meet the minimum qualifications by November 10 could still compete for the position so long as they could meet those qualifications by January 1, 2024.

This change effectively clarified that James Hampton could compete for the position as he had not yet obtained his college degree but would have it by January 1. When Hampton was subsequently one of the successful candidates, some candidates concluded that the decision had been preordained. While the investigation did not substantiate that to be the case, the change in the process could lend itself to that appearance.

While the Police Department’s General Order does not specify exactly when a candidate must have met the minimum requirements, a review of prior promotional processes did show that on at least one occasion a candidate in similar circumstances was not eligible to apply. Although there is no evidence that race played any role in this process, based on this appearance of unfairness and inconsistency, we recommend that the City consider redoing the promotional process as it pertains to the Hampton’s promotion.

In the event that the city concurs and elects to redo the promotional process, we further recommend that the Police Department outline the process to be used and the selection criteria in writing and have it reviewed by the City Manager and by Human Resources. The current General Order only provides that the promotional decision is to be made by the Chief, but does not dictate how the decision is to be made Or the criteria to be used. While this, by its nature, affords the Chief maximum flexibility and latitude to determine the best fit for the position, it also unfortunately lends itself to allegations of impropriety even in instances where there is none. To alleviate those concerns and to ensure that the decision is based solely on qualifications and merit, we would recommend that the Department outline its process and selection criteria in advance.

It is our understanding that, in the past, the Department has also employed outside experts to review and interview candidates and make non-binding recommendations to the Chief.

Although it is our belief that the Police Department’s administration is ultimately in the best position to determine who is the best candidate for a position, we also believe that there is great added value through the use of outside experts who can provide guidance and recommendation Is such, we would recommend that the Police Department consider that in this instance as-well particularly since both internal and external constituencies subjectively believe that the process was unfair and preordained.

Page 5 of 6

Closing remarks

Finally, all who review this report are reminded that the City expressly forbids retaliation against employees who raise concerns of discrimination or who participate in an investigation into such allegations. Accordingly, all employees who participated in this inquiry must not be subject to any adverse action as a result of such participation.

Thank you for the opportunity to be of service to the City of Lake Wales in connection with this investigation. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this matter, or otherwise wish to discuss any of the findings, conclusions, or recommendations, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

s/ Brian Koi

Brian Koji

Page 6 of 6 “

Editors Note: We have spoken to City of Lake Wales Manager James Slaton and the city is currently working with HR director Sandra Davis and Chief Velazquez to have a more streamlined process that will help resolve any appearance or perception of favoritism in the future.

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