Lawsuit claims white Detroit cop demoted because of his race following viral Snapchat video

Oct 23, 2019 at 3:00 pm
click to enlarge Lawsuit claims white Detroit cop demoted because of his race following viral Snapchat video
Steve Neavling

Former Detroit police captain Gary Sroka is the subject of a recent federal lawsuit and is one of four commanding officers found to have exhibited “a lack of management, awareness, and action” regarding racial insensitivity within the precinct. Sroka, who is white, claims in an 11-page lawsuit obtained by The Detroit News that actions taken against him were the result of race and age discrimination.

The lawsuit is the result of an ongoing internal and environmental audit of Detroit's 6th Precinct launched earlier this year by Detroit Police Chief James Craig, stemming from the firing of two white Detroit Police officers who participated in a racially insensitive and now viral Snapchat video during which both men can be heard mocking a Black woman during a routine traffic stop.

Former officer Gary Steele shared a video after stopping 23-year-old Ariel Moore for an expired license plate tag on Jan. 29. The video, which was posted on Steele's personal Snapchat account, followed Moore as she walked home in frigid temperatures and included in-app captions, "What Black girl magic looks like" and "Celebrating Black History Month." Steele also said, "bye Felicia," while his partner Michael Garrison can be heard mocking Moore with comments like "walk of shame" that can be heard in the video.

The probe, which involved more than 100 interviews, revealed a racially toxic culture within the 6th Precinct fueled in part by the indifference of supervisors, including Sroka, though he had been transferred to the 6th Precinct a week prior to the video surfacing. As previously reported, two-thirds of the precinct’s afternoon shift were white male officers in a city where more than 80 percent of residents are Black.

Sroka claims within the lawsuit that the racial tone-deafness discovered by Craig's probe existed before his transfer and suggests that discipline for the intolerance or lack of awareness should fall equally on Arnold Williams and Tiffany Stewart, both of whom are Black and were acting commanding officers when the video was recorded.

The lawsuit states that Sroka had opted for demotion in March, which led to accepting a lieutenant ranking and reassignment to the Assets and Licensing Department rather than taking early retirement, as one of his fellow embroiled supervisors chose to do.

In a statement to The Detroit News on Wednesday, Sroka's attorney, Caitlin E. Malhio, said that they “haven't made a demand for a specific number at this time.” The lawsuit addresses claims that Sroka has suffered “loss of respect within the DPD, loss of self-esteem, loss of sleep, anxiety, depression, negative impact on his personal relationships, and other emotional damages.”

As of last month, it was decided that neither former Officer Steele nor Garrison would face criminal charges due to “insufficient evidence.”

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