St. Francis Smith, a Black former Mount Dora, Fla., police officer, is suing the department for racial discrimination.
In the federal lawsuit, filed Oct. 8 against the Mount Dora Police Department, Smith says he “felt bullied and harrassed” as the department’s only minority SWAT team member. He had been at the department from 2013-2018.
He also alleges that he was coerced into joining the Mount Dora SWAT team despite being wary about its practices. Another discrimination complaint Smith filed June 15 with the Florida Commission on Human Relations also includes an account of Smith being pressured to take part in a 2016 honor guard ceremony, despite having asked for a temporary leave of absence from voluntary duties like these. He claims it was because of his race.
Central to this suit is former police chief John O’Grady, who was fired in July because of multiple incidents of misconduct, including making insensitive racial comments to a Puerto Rican officer under the guise of joking, and, in one incident, nearly refusing to return a lost dog to its owners and trying to persuade Animal Control officers to not return the dog, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
In response to Smith taking part in the 2016 ceremony, the Commission on Human Relations complaint says, O’Grady approached him and spoke with contempt.
“Chief O’Grady approached me and thanked me for ‘volunteering,’ when he clearly knew that I did not,” the complaint states. “His tone was snide and superior.”
According to the suit, O’Grady accused Smith of insubordination after Smith filed a hostile workplace complaint against him. Other forms of retaliation came in O’Grady saying Smith was “mentally unstable” because of his discrimination claims. Eventually, the suit says, O’Grady initiated an investigation into Smith’s performance and put him on administrative leave for “violating policy.” The suit claims the Mount Dora Police Department policy that Smith violated was not ever clearly identified.
Ultimately, Smith resigned. But the suit says his resignation was not voluntary. He said he was “forced and coerced into signing a resignation letter to protect his privacy.”
Smith seeks back pay, lost earnings and other lost benefits. He’s also seeking a court order requiring the Mount Dora to cease and desist from acts of discrimination.