The city of Tulsa was ordered Friday to pay $342,046 to attorneys for a black Tulsa police officer who sued the city after he was told by a superior to march in the 2010 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade.
U.S. District Judge John Dowdell, in an opinion issued Friday in Tulsa federal court, upheld a magistrate’s recommendation that attorneys for Police Capt. Walter Busby were due from the city fees totaling $336,682.50 and expenses totaling $5,363.84.
Dowdell ruled Jan. 25 that the city violated Busby’s civil rights when it retaliated against the officer after he objected to being ordered by a superior to march with other officers in the city parade.
Busby was the only police captain so ordered. Two white captains in Busby’s division volunteered to march, while another white captain was allowed to take holiday leave during the parade.
City officials denied that the order was race-based. But the superior officer, who was also black, wrote in a memo to Busby regarding his refusal that he was “embarrassed that few African American officers participate in Department-sponsored ceremonies,” including the parade.
Busby testified during a 2015 bench trial on the matter that he had been on the board that organizes the parade for more than 20 years. When he wasn’t working, Busby said, he would usually participate in the parade with organizers.
Busby’s then superior, Maj. Walter Evans, testified that Busby told him he planned to ride in a trolley with parade organizers when he asked Busby if he planned to march with other members of the department.
Evans quoted Busby as saying he didn’t want to march with “them.” Busby later explained he was referring to “those that didn’t speak to me.”
Busby claimed his subsequent lowest-ever performance evaluation rating and reassignment to a late evening shift were retaliation for objecting to being ordered to march with the TPD.
Following the trial, Dowdell, in an opinion, called the Tulsa Police Department’s raced-based actions “repugnant” and ordered the city to purge Busby’s subsequent 2010 unfavorable performance evaluation, credit him with 453 hours of leave he took after he was reassigned to a late evening shift and pay his attorney fees.
Dowdell ruled against Busby’s discrimination claim. The 38-year veteran on the force did not seek any monetary damages.
Attorneys for Busby, in court papers, laid much of the blame for the high fee award on the city’s “take no prisoners” defense strategy.
The Bullock Law firm, which represented Busby, said it spent more than 1,000 hours on the case since its inception in 2011.
Attorneys originally sought $380,657 in legal fees and costs. Magistrate Jodi Jayne recommended the amount be reduced to the $342,046 total with which Dowdell agreed.
There was no word from the city as to how it would pay the attorney fee award. The city could opt to place the judgment on the sinking fund, which is repaid through property tax levies.
Attorneys for Busby and the city of Tulsa could not be reached for comment on the decision.
The decision on attorney fees leaves just one outstanding matter to be resolved in the lawsuit.
Attorneys for Busby filed a motion in November that asked Dowdell to find the city of Tulsa in contempt for allegedly violating a Jan. 25 court order that instructed the city to destroy the captain’s 2010 performance evaluation.
The motion alleged that Busby discovered on Nov. 20 that the city Human Resources Department still maintained a copy of the 2010 evaluation.
City officials attributed the issue to a miscommunication among employees in the Human Resources Department. The issue was “immediately corrected” after officials became aware of Busby’s contempt motion, according to a response by the city.
Dowdell on Friday gave the city two weeks to file evidence of its efforts to ensure compliance with his Jan. 25 order.
This is not the first time Busby has sued the city.
Busby was the lead plaintiff in the federal class-action lawsuit filed in 1994 by black Tulsa Police officers.The officers sued the city of Tulsa in 1994 over what it claimed were racially-based discriminatory practices.
The lawsuit was settled in 2002.