Race Relations in Law Enforcement

Law Enforcement, Race, and Gender in the Cabell-Huntington Area

Kayla Chappelle

People living in Huntington, West Virginia have experienced discrimination and the struggles to come together or just combat discriminatory behavior as in any other area. From the integration of Douglass High School into Huntington High School to integration of the Keith-Albee Theater in the city to sit-ins in local restaurants such as the White Pantry to “Colored Day” at Huntington’s only amusement park to protests and conferences, the city has been largely purged of the overt discriminatory behavior of which it had once been plagued.What is incredibly interesting about this city in western West Virginia; however, are therace and gender relation issues present in both the Huntington Police Department and the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department that have been apparent since even after the West Virginia Human Rights Commission formed in 1961.

Following the creation of the Human Rights Commission, both departments were required to follow more explicit guidelines involving investigation of potentially discriminatory activities, but remarkably, discrimination continued blatantly after these protective measures were taken. Additionally, there is reason to believe that the skewed demographics of the Force and Sheriff’s Department today are a direct result of previous discrimination and fear of it happening presently. Inquiry about the demographics of the employees in each department led to very interesting results, as the makeup has not changed that much since the 60s and 70s. One thing is certain: racial and gender bias prevent African Americans, especially women, from considering, applying for, and receiving jobs relating to law enforcement in the Cabell-Huntington area of West Virginia. A significant portion of West Virginia’s population has therefore been marginalized when it comes to law enforcement employment and race. African Americans, especially women, even today, are the most marginalized group of people in a set of departments that are maintained to dissolve problems and restore peace in the community of Huntington and the Cabell area, and it is necessary to address this and what is being done as a solution.

The number of employees in each department examined are currently as follows from the information available: the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department contains fewer Deputies to patrol the county of Cabell, in which the city of Huntington lies, while the Huntington Police Department has more workers and they are primarily focused on policing and patrolling in the city limits of Huntington. The Cabell County Sheriff Department’s 2009 Annual Report details exactly how many staff the department has hired and the jobs which each amount of people work; there were 39 Deputy Sheriffs hired at the time the report was released and a total of 68 people working in the department.1 The Huntington Police Department’s 2008-2009 Annual Report details the same; there were 94 sworn deputies at the time of its release.2

In 1961, the West Virginia Human Rights Commission was created by the legislature to combat racism and other discriminatory behavior. The leading commissioners were Chairman Thomas W. Gavett and Executive Director Howard W. McKinney. By 1971, the West Virginian Deputies were finally granted civil service coverage by the legislature for all counties over 50,000. Eventually, all the counties in West Virginia were covered.   A Civil Service Commission and a Deputy Sheriff’s Association were then required after the initial civil service coverage. The Civil Service Commission has 3 members: one member from the Bar Association, one member from the County Commission, and one member from the Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

Discriminatory behavior was present throughout the 70s and even into the late 90s. Cabell County Accessor Ottie Adkins explained that, to his knowledge, while he was active, there were discriminatory behaviors and ideas floating through the departments. As time went on and the departments became more professionalized, however, more people got the chance to have their complaints investigated fairly and to have protection against those who might be attempting to harm them.3 Adkins worked as police officer for over 25 years. He retired as the Chief of Police, having worked with the department from 1959 until 1984. He also served as the Cabell County Sheriff for 8 years, having worked with that department from 1989 until 1997. Another individual, Larry Pinkerman, who worked from the position of Deputy to Lieutenant for the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department from 1976 until 2007 felt that he knew of 4 to 5 people that were directly discriminated against, and while he sees the deputies as a close-knit family, “you do get an oddball every now and then.”4

In 1969, Joan Maurice Chappelle was hired by Sheriff Joe Neal to work in the jail. She was “paid less than the men, worked 5 and a half days a week with 24-hour call, and had the same responsibilities as the male deputies along with bookkeeping, billing, and typing for the jail.”5 As she reports, there were no requirements, no specific education required, and no background check. She said of her positions worked, “Well, I worked as part of the Cabell County Sheriff’s Department. Two separate things. In some cases we worked together, but our department has jurisdiction over a larger area, because they worked in the city limits and we worked the entire counties. I worked in the jail, all three shifts, road patrol, and all 3 shifts as supervisor, worked in courts and processes as a bailiff and to sort papers, I could execute mental warrants and warrants, and I was eventually road patrol commander.”6 She listed the exact positions held in her time working there: Deputy, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Administrative Assistant to Ottie Adkins, Training Officer, Patrol Commander, Jail Support Officer, President of Deputy Sheriff’s Association (7 years), Executive Board Member, State Association (11 years), and Report Review Officer.5 Chappelle was moved around quite a bit and worked all the duties expected of a Cabell County Sheriff’s Deputy. She wrote of her actual work schedule,

“Immediately I was assigned as a Day Shift Road Patrol Supervisor with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, and knew absolutely nothing about any location in the county. It was 3 months day, 3 months evening, and 3 months midnight. The Sheriff made his own personnel orders in so far as sick leave, vacation, etc. Different strokes for different folks. I was required to be off for a medical procedure and was docked three days pay for the first off and told I had 60 days to work my days off to make them up.”6

Law enforcement officers in general are subject to shift changes and will frequently work many of those positions for the duration of their employment as a policeman or deputy. In a 1999 article posted by a member of the Police Policy Studies Council, a “research-based, interdisciplinary, training and consultation corporation,” dedicated to providing helpful law enforcement practice and policy research information across the United States, the issues officers face when tasked with working ever-changing shifts are addressed: “How many of you have been able to avoid working rotating shifts for all or most of your career? If you have served as a law enforcement officer, probably few among you have escaped this experience. I would also suspect that few of you actually enjoy working rotating shifts, and that you spend most of your career merely attempting to cope with this unnatural lifestyle. Well, there are things they didn’t teach you at the police academy about shift work, though they certainly should have. It’s not only an integral part of policing; it’s a surreptitious component of diminished job performance.”7 This article details the stresses associated with rotating shifts and the fact that many officers must work constrained like this. Continually rotating shifts may be common to the law enforcement officer’s experience, but denying vacation and sick leave as well as requests for certain shifts certainly is not commonplace.

According to Chappelle, after Neal’s term, promotions were called for by then-Sheriff Ted T. Barr, who served two consecutive terms as Cabell County Sheriff, starting in 1972, in addition to two terms as a County Commissioner beginning in 1981. There were 8 Sergeants and 2 Lieutenants. Ted Barr assumed that those he had selected for the positions were the ones that were chosen, and he did receive the two Lieutenants he had opted for during the selection. The Commission also promoted an African American male and an African American female to the sergeant positions. Chappelle remembers that when the list was pasted, Barr “stomped it and said ‘they screwed me.’” Chappelle notes that, according to her memories of the time, “from the date of promotion until retirement, prejudice and evil ran rampant.”5

The discriminatory activities occurring in the 70s after Robert Bailey became Sheriff eventually led Chappelle to file a suit against her employers, which culminated in a federal court case. Her court case addressed her grievances, such as “threats, fake calls, hearses sent to my house to pick up my body with flowers, tow trucks to tow my vehicle, all just a few of the fear tactics.”6 Chappelle remembers a time when lawyers continually called her home and asked her the same questions about the discrimination and recalls that she answered them all very similarly. Finally, a lawyer from Charleston determined that Chappelle had probable cause to take her employers to court with all the information she had compiled and remembered. Chappelle remembers being sent out into areas in the Cabell County where the reports of vandalism involved lawn jockeys and racial slurs scrawled on bathroom stalls. Occasionally, she would arrive and nothing would be out of place at all, making her trip totally unnecessary. Under Bailey, three additional female Deputies were hired, and when Chappelle asked why it was not necessary for the other females to complete the same duties constantly assigned to her, she was told, “You are different.”5

Perhaps most disturbing of all her experiences, Chappelle’s husband once received flowers from the then-Sheriff as a hearse was sent to their home, with a note reading “sorry about your loss.” This court case occurred during a time in which Chappelle wrote that “discrimination and prejudice became more blatant.” She remembers writing down all instances of discrimination on anything she had on hand at the time, even napkins. When these events occurred, she would make notes, save the information, and continue with her duties. Because of the confidentiality clause, Chappelle cannot discuss under any circumstances the details surrounding the settlement, such as exactly how much she was paid. However, she is allowed to admit that the case was for age, sex, and race discrimination, she won, and why the case was sealed. The Court ruled that she was discriminated against based on the evidence provided, and her employers were made to pay her with an additional requirement that the case was to be sealed so that no one could uncover the information discussed and the amount her employers had to pay.

Ottie Adkins had this to say of the conditions of the force while he was an active officer:

“Overall it was good, but in no way can you control individuals’ feelings or thoughts of prejudice. You cannot, even with all the rules and investigations. You can’t guarantee it won’t happen. The same probably exists today. As the years go on, it does improve. From when I first went on the Department, I can see improvement, but it is very slow. This doesn’t mean it can’t improve, but when you go back to ’59, it was pretty bad. Over the years, because of pension and demonstrations improvement has been brought on, and the federal government and the FBI being involved and professionalizing police departments, you get Internal Affairs. To say that it’s reached the goal? I say no.”3

Adkins went on to say that, although he did recall prejudice and squabbles amongst officers and opinions that were hard to break, he could not remember any specific incidents involving racial or gender discrimination, as it was for a span of 25 years and it was too many years ago. He also noted that, in every case of suspected discrimination, there were always investigations: “We always investigated, but probably not so much in ’59. Departments back then – don’t want to use professional – they didn’t have Internal Affairs until later on. I’m sure they weren’t investigated as thoroughly. Usually when they’re not investigated, they probably occur more frequently. As it became more professional and we had Internal Affairs, things happened to stop those actions.”3

Chappelle’s story and the recollections of other employees during the late 60s into the 2000s bring the next question up: how are the relations within the departments any different today? Throughout the 90s and into the 2000s, have black officers, especially women, been treated more fairly? Has a significant amount of these problems and discriminatory actions been eliminated from the law enforcement of Huntington? The Cabell County Sheriff’s Department and the Police Department had demographics that almost directly reflected the tolerance of the workers at the time, so how do things look in the present?

In an August 2010 article posted about Huntington’s Police Force on the Herald-Dispatch site, a Huntington newspaper, the seemingly one-sided race and gender makeup of the Force is highlighted, and so are Police Chief Skip Holbrook’s attempts at changing this undesirable pattern at an August 7, 2010 statewide gathering of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: “Holbrook told the NAACP that various groups, such as the city’s Black Pastors’ Ministerial Association, had expressed the need for his force to hire more minorities. He inherited a department with 86 total officers, which included five women and two minorities.”8

Before this, it is mentioned that among the 38 graduates, a Jammal Goodman will be graduating – the first black officer to have graduated in 16 years.8 The article then mentions some of the methods and ideas by employees meant to cultivate interest in joining law enforcement amongst the minority population of Huntington, WV: “Huntington Police Capt. Hank Dial said the department met with an agency to redevelop its recruitment brochures and advertising campaign. For instance, he said previous advertisements consisted of ‘Wanted’ billboards and posters more closely resembling a method used to catch a fugitive. ‘We’re now stepping out of that,’ Dial said. ‘That almost has a negative connotation. So we’re changing all of that.’”8

It is interesting that only after the publicized graduation of an academy member whose race had been nearly unheard of for over a decade, these methods and ideas were also made public. The need for racial and cultural diversity among the people who must deal with others from any number of backgrounds is one that cannot be ignored. Was it the media coverage that stirred the emotions of people unwilling to be scrutinized for the outrageous fact that, after 16 years, only one African American graduate passed through? Was that the spark that needed to ignite the simple publication of the potential fixes being thought of by the current leaders? Were these ideas already floating around and no one wanted to bring attention to this disparaging fact? The article continued on: “But improving the department’s relationship with minorities doesn’t stop at recruiting. Holbrook told attendees it also involves being selective as to whom the department hires. His administration has developed a review board, which includes members of the African-American community. Among its members are local NAACP branch president Silvia Ridgeway, the Rev. Reginald Hill of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and a member of Cabell County Schools.”8

Could it not be that as opposed to the potentially scary recruitment tactics that might put people off from applying for a job in law enforcement, it is in fact their own deep-seated fears that exist due to treatment of previous officers and employees? Obviously, there is a shortage of African American officers, especially women. There is a disturbing lack of women in general. Chappelle said of the issue of gender sensitivity and whether or not she had to respond frequently to those types of situations in her interview, “Yes. It was always funny because usually, when they would ask to see a supervisor and when I responded as a female, usually the person was unhappy and would listen to what the male had to say in the beginning.”6 Regardless of race, Chappelle was still disregarded due to her gender.

The gender boundary was always problematic for civil rights movements. Even a section of an editorial found in a September 16, 1916 copy of West Virginia’s first African American newspaper, the Pioneer Press, demonstrates anti-woman sentiments: “In regard to lynchings, burnings and wholesale murdering bring about threatenings mixed with prayers as the last resort, the limit is being reached. In its face, however, let these day philosophers philosophize, we shall deal with facts that the past has always resulted in, not theories, for be assured that as electricity has emancipated the mind from the body and given it wings, so will unific and manly contention against the wrongs that are piled on us, give us full-fledged men’s rights.”9

Here lies the assumption that not just contention, but masculine contention, is the only thing that can and will determine whether or not African Americans of the time can free themselves and rise above the wrongs holding them back from progress. Unity is obviously the solution, as suggested by the writer, but unfortunately, the section seems to contradict itself. Even in 1916 in West Virginia, a time in which it was absolutely necessary for African Americans to use their communities and ties with one another to protect and advance themselves, half the population of West Virginian African Americans were excluded – women. The implication that logic and the scientific and intellectual fortitude demonstrated by public electricity is akin to manly contention is, indeed, a detriment to the overall meaning of this section of the paper. Instead of asking for full-fledged human rights, or full-fledged equal rights, or even full-fledged black rights, combining the two genders as one unified and harassed race, the women are excluded from this rather masculine call for equality. Threats, racial violence, and even murder prompt the writer to invite only African American men to the stand.

“Outsider within the Station House: The Impact of Race and Gender on Black Women Police,” an article which examines the impact of racial and gender constructs in five large municipal police agencies in the 90s, reports that: “most of the females but only a minority of the males believed that they had experienced discrimination as police officers. Seventy-seven percent of the white women and 55 percent of the black women reported experiencing sex discrimination; however, 20 percent of the white women and 61 percent of the black women reported experiencing racial discrimination. Forty-eight percent of the black women reported experiencing both racial and sex discrimination. All respondents agreed that little unity exists among the women. They are divided by divergent perspectives on occupational performance and other factors. Findings indicated that the combination of race and gender leads to unique problems and perspectives for black female police officers.”10 This is a testament to the fact that, while there are a relatively small number of male officers who actually claim discrimination, a significant portion of women interviewed believe they have been discriminated against, especially because of their race. These percentages display a disturbing message about gender and race relations within those municipal police agencies. African American women who work in law enforcement clearly have the most at stake, although women in general seem to be discriminated against more frequently than men, regardless of race.

Another article from the 1990s that describes the discrimination faced in particular by African American women officers in the United States also points out that black male officers face similar problems, although don’t report it as much: “The literature points out that apparently similar experiences occur for black police men who report great conflict in their roles as blacks and as police officers… An example helps to illustrate the point. On the job, a black partner may be seen as “a brother in blue,” but if blacks speak forcefully against what they perceive to be racist slurs, behaviors, and policies in the department, they are often accused of not being “blue enough”.”11 This suggests that the mere reporting of discriminatory behaviors and attitudes within the work environment by African American employees further distances them from their coworkers and partners. In order to remain in good standing with the people who might be responsible for protecting and caring about the safety of an African American partner, these employees are silenced about what they might actually be facing on the job.

When asked to comment about the modern-day outlook on the departments, Chappelle stated: “There’s not much to say that there’s one black and one female. I think there are around 90-100 Huntington police officers, with 2 to 3 being black. Maybe there are more women than with the Sheriff’s Department, 5 to 6 women. The reasoning is that blacks don’t pass the test. For some reason, blacks seem to score lower on the entrance exams. In most cases, blacks are scrutinized more than whites. They are watched more on the force. But it’s usually that the blacks, they say, don’t pass the test.”6

Interestingly enough, to see how various employees felt about new employees being apprehensive and possibly scared of the race or gender relations in the departments, the question of what advice they would give the concerned newcomers was asked and there were totally different responses: “To be very careful and to document any and everything and consider very carefully if that is the line of work they want to pursue,”6 and “I encourage them to apply definitely. These issues and thoughts are in the back of a lot of minds, but the only way they can improve them is to apply and evaluate the process and make notes as often as they can and observe the process very well to see if they can speak out. This standing back – and it does happen a lot – when people won’t take the jobs, doesn’t solve it. Take the test, go through the process, see what happens, and see from a closer view,”8 sit in direct opposition to one another. One person suggests that it could be ridiculously difficult and so therefore the newcomer should seriously take the time to consider what they are about to embark upon, and the other suggests that sitting idly by and worrying won’t actually change the state of things. Only actively inserting oneself into the situation can alter the future.

Is it possible to actually change the way things are? What happened years ago cannot be changed, but it can be used as a model of what not to do in the future. The Cabell-Huntington area just recently graduated one African American officer – the first in 16 years. While changes are being made and attention is being called to some of the issues prevalent in our Law Enforcement’s tilted makeup scales, one man in 16 years makes the outlook seem grim. The fact that there are a few women out of almost a hundred men further worsens the problem. If people would band together as once did the abolitionists who fought for women’s rights and suffrage, regardless of race, the community would hear more about these issues that have clearly gone unaddressed for far too long. In a March 23 article of the Herald-Dispatch celebrating former executive director of the West Virginia Human Rights Commission Ivin B. Lee, the African American Distinguished West Virginian said her job was gratifying because “there are people who are discriminated against because of race, sex, and age, and we’re able a lot of times to actually mediate the case and get it settled.”12 Her highlighted quote in the article is this: “I walked the path and tried to accomplish something along the way so those coming behind me; it might be easier for them. I feel good about my life… I’ve done the best I can.”12 She, along with Chappelle and Adkins and Pinkerman and Holbrook and all other people related to law enforcement and justice who address these issues, continue to inspire the population by committing themselves to knowing and speaking the truth. Many changes need to be made, and promises have already been made. It is time for the Cabell-Huntington area’s law enforcement departments to push themselves forward.

1 Cabell County Sheriff’s Department, 2009 Annual Report, accessed March 1, 2011. http://www.cabellcountysheriff.com/pdf/2009AnnualReport.pdf.

2 Huntington Police Department, 2008 Annual Report, accessed March 1, 2011. http://www.cityofhuntington.com/pages/pdfs/HPDAR.pdf.

3 Ottie Adkins, interview held over the phone with the author, April 4, 2011.

4 Larry Pinkerman, interview held over the phone with the author, April 7, 2011.

5 Joan M. Chappelle, personal letter, 15 March 2011.

6 Joan M. Chappelle, interview held over the phone with the author, March 13, 2011.

7 Thomas J. Aveni, “Shift Work and Officer Survival,” S&W Academy Newsletter, Summer 1999, 31.

8 Curtis Johnson, “Police Expand Minority Recruitment,” The Herald-Dispatch, August 15, 2010. http://www.herald-dispatch.com/news/x1016273425/City-police-department-expands-recruitment-of-minority-applicants.

9 J. R. Clifford. “The Pioneer Press Editorials,” West Virginia Archives and History, http://www.wvculture.org/history/africanamericans/pioneerpress.html.

10 Susan E. Martin, “Outsider Within the Station House: The Impact of Race and Gender on Black Women Police,” Social Problems 41, no. 3 (1994): 383-400. http://www.jstor.org.

11 Barbara R. Price, “Female Police Officers in the United States,” National Criminal Justice Reference Service, http://www.ncjrs.gov/policing/fem635.htm.

12 Bonny Rushbrook, “A Lifetime of Service,” The Herald-Dispatch, March 13, 2011, 1C.