Ithaca, N.Y. — A federal trial began this week over the discrimination claims made by former Ithaca police officer Christopher Miller.
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Miller, who is white, says he was discriminated against by the Ithaca Police Department on the basis of his race. The lawsuit was first filed in 2010 against the IPD, former Chief Ed Vallely, the city of Ithaca and several police officers.
In 2012, a federal jury awarded Miller $2 million on the basis of his job discrimination claims, according to Syracuse.com. That decision was later tossed by a judge who ordered a retrial, according to The Cornell Daily Sun.
Monday may have marked the beginning of the end of the long-running legal drama, which resulted in the publication of high-profile — and later discredited — allegations against Lt. Marlon Byrd.
The city has maintained throughout that the case that it did nothing wrong. Attorney Paul E. Wagner reiterated that belief in his opening argument before the Albany court and Chief Judge Gary L. Sharpe of the Northern District of New York.
Wagner makes several key points in the arguments (a transcript of which is reprinted in full below), all of which work to show that former Officer Miller should not be trusted and is “a bully.”
Here are our three main takeaways from Wanger’s opening statements:
1 — Focus on Miller’s history
Wagner alleges that former Officer Miller committed a series of infractions while with IPD.
Among those are:
— Cutting down the tarps of homeless people in the Jungle. (He was suspended 4 weeks without pay for doing so, according to Wagner.)
— In 2006 and 2007, Wagner says, Miller “abused” a dry cleaning worker by threatening to arrest her on trumped up charges and making lewd gestures in front of her teenage daughter.
The community police board investigated the complaint “and, unfortunately, they sweep it under the rug, there’s no discipline,” the city’s lawyer says.
— Three other complaints were filed against Officer Miller: two in 2008 and a third in 2009.
“It was citizens, some of whom were being investigated for crimes, some of whom were being issued tickets, but citizens all reporting a consistent theme, abuse by this officer,” the lawyer says.
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2 — Assignment of beats
Miller claims he was retaliated against by being put in worse “beats:” namely, to patrol the Commons and to patrol Collegetown.
But the city says Miller was put in those beats to steer him away from coming into contact with the poor and others who Miller had demonstrated strained relationships with.
“Those three community complaints didn’t have to be proven against Officer Miller; they were both legitimately concerned about the pattern, about what he was doing and putting our citizens at risk in the poorer neighborhoods,” Wagner says.
3 — Miller’s character
Our third main takeaway from Wagner’s opening statement is that the city is arguing that Miller’s character can’t be trusted.
“You’re gonna conclude that this man, in addition to being a bully, is a liar, and he’s not only a garden variety liar,” Wagner says. Wagner then accuses Miller of falsifying a DWI patrol report.
Opening statement from Miller’s attorney
In an opening statement that included a quote from the French philosopher Volatire, attorney AJ Bosman says that Miller was discriminated against “because he called them on their discrimination.”
“When retaliation is alleged, for complaining about discrimination, one of the things that the people who are retaliating will do is say, no, no, no, no, no. I didn’t do that because of his Human Rights complaint, I did it because he’s a bad employee,” Bosman says.
“We call that pretext, because they’re pretending.”
Bosman says that Miller was not treated as he was “because he was a bad cop — he’s not a bad cop.”
“He was treated that way because he called them on their discrimination and then he called them on their retaliation because if you can silence someone for complaining about discrimination,” she says.
We’ll be providing updates as the trial progresses.
Below is the copy of the opening statements, reproduced in full: