On October 14, 2005, Sgt. Giovanni Veliz filed two charges of discrimination with the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. The complaints alleged that the Minneapolis Police Department systematically discriminated against Hispanics, both in its personnel decisions and in its day-to-day dealings with the broader Latino community.
Roughly two months later, Veliz applied for a transfer to the Minnesota Gang Strike Force. Despite more than a decade on the force, including seven years as a sergeant, Veliz's application did not even merit an interview. Instead the position went to a white male officer who had been promoted to sergeant less than a year earlier.
"As a rising star of Latino national origin he would have been a good addition to this unit," says John Klassen, Veliz's attorney. "It would have been a boon to the Latino community."
This rejection prompted Veliz, who is of Ecuadorian descent, to file a third civil rights complaint with the city, this time alleging that he'd been unfairly retaliated against. In February of this year, the civil rights department determined that probable cause existed that Veliz had been wrongly discriminated and retaliated against. The agency found that the MPD had utilized different standards to determine Veliz's fitness for the position than those applied to white officers. (The first two complaints are still pending with the civil rights department.)
Last week the veteran officer filed a lawsuit against the city in U.S. District Court charging that his civil rights have been violated. Veliz is seeking more than $50,000 in damages.
Minneapolis is yet to file an answer to the lawsuit. City spokesman Matt Laible says that the city does not comment on pending litigation.