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Racism Reversed

A black police chief accuses a black mayor of discriminating against whites.



Eton on Chagrin Boulevard is bustling. Outside Trader Joe's, mothers carry heavy brown bags filled with organic apples and expensive cheeses as they fish for their Volvo keys. Inside Anthropologie, pre-teens with Coach purses and Invisalign braces ogle pairs of $175 jeans. At Paladar, businessmen check iPhones and munch yucca chips with thick guacamole.

To see Eton today, you would never guess that the surrounding village of Woodmere was once the stepchild no one wanted. Seventy years ago, it was one of five municipalities that made up Orange Township, its footprint just a quarter-mile square. To the surrounding towns of Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, and Pepper Pike, however, it might as well have been a tuberculosis ward.

In the 1800s, Woodmere served as a stopping ground on the Underground Railroad. When slavery ended, its reputation as a place friendly to blacks remained, though that distinction didn't particularly thrill white neighbors. The simmering reached full boil in 1944, when black residents woke in the middle of the night to the scent of burning wood. They ran for their children, then stood outside to watch their homes burn.

Township trustees would eventually try less incendiary ways to force the mostly poor black population to leave. They prohibited the use of secondhand wood in constructing homes and forced owners to put up $1,000 bonds before work began. If residents couldn't or wouldn't comply, police allowed them to rethink their posture in jail.

It would take another 14 years before black residents finally had enough. In 1958, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on their discrimination suit, declaring the housing codes illegal. The court decided that Woodmere should be able to establish its own ordinances. The village was now in charge of its own destiny.

Slowly, the town developed an identity of its own. The woodsy area attracted blacks leaving the city and whites looking for cheap homes. Yolanda Broadie's family was among them.

She remembers that day in the 1970s, her 11-year-old face pressed against the car window as her family headed east, past the huge trees that leaned like overprotective parents, the young saplings with branches as thin as a ballerina's arm. That's when she decided she hated the place. "I thought it was totally country."

Adjusting was hard. Her elementary school in Cleveland was all black. Now she was being bused to Orange, where she was the only black kid in class. The others viewed her curiously, as if she were a llama. "It was a culture shock for my brother and I," Broadie says. "It's a big shock to spend all your life around African Americans, then move to a community where you are actually the minority."

Broadie made the best of the situation, inviting classmates home for sleepovers and lavish southern dinners, trying to be everyone's favorite friend. But she lived a split life: the one at school, where integration was encouraged, and the one at home, where bitterness was sometimes nurtured.

At times she'd overhear her mother talking with friends about the racism they once faced — the inability to build homes on their own property, the way they were treated like field hands on a farm. Slowly, the town's history became intermingled with Broadie's. At school, she saw the belittling way whites treated her brother, who was neither as strong nor as outgoing as she was. She watched helplessly as he retreated into the solace of his own mind.

All of this left an impression on her. It also seemed to provide a guidepost. Thirty years later, she would be accused of doing the same discriminatory things to whites.

With just 850 residents tucked within an upscale shopping village, Woodmere is still governed like most small towns. The ladder-climbers occupying the higher rungs of politics don't bother with places like this. Here, government is left to those with a volunteer spirit, or at least free time on their hands.

The latter brought Broadie to the Woodmere City Council. An elder member died; she was appointed to replace him. Over the next few years, she became the queen bee of this group of leading citizens. She was intimidating, persuasive, sweet — the popular girl everyone follows. "People listened to her," says former member William Blakemore.

But neither she nor her colleagues were known for running the kind of sparkling city government suggested in civics classes. When state auditors examined the town's books in 1995, they were appalled. Contracts and bank statements hadn't been maintained. Planning and zoning commission members were paid for meetings they never attended. And no one was minding the cash register: The village general fund was handsomely overdrawn.

Its municipal court system wasn't much better. Filing "consisted of stapled pages and lacked pertinent information such as the ticket number, proceedings, payment amounts received," according to the audit.

Improvement was hard to find in subsequent years. Officials violated hiring laws, failing to publicly advertise positions and handing out jobs at whim. When lawyers subpoenaed records two years ago, they found that the person charged with overseeing equal-opportunity hiring had been dead for two years.

But few in town seemed to notice. Like most Americans, they preferred to ignore government, simply hoping that it wouldn't behave too stupidly. In Woodmere, only 140 or so people typically vote in elections. The audience at council meetings can be counted on one hand. And governments rarely behave well when left unsupervised.

Around the county, Woodmere's cops were legendary. In the '90s, one officer used his police gun to kill his wife. Another was indicted on drug charges. A third was accused in federal court of roughing up motorists during routine traffic stops.

But mostly they were known for their speed traps. Their main task, it appeared, was to hunt down unsuspecting motorists. At the time, Woodmere's speed limits on Chagrin Boulevard were dramatically lower than those in the neighboring villages. Conveniently for city coffers, there were no signs advertising the sudden changes. All police had to do was wait at the border and fire up their red lights. By 1993, the village was generating more than $10,000 a month in speeding tickets.

It mattered not to city leaders that its police force was essentially shaking down motorists. When a Bedford judge ruled that 18 drivers had been stopped illegally — and suggested that Woodmere police had lied in court — the village simply ignored the Bedford ruling.

Either way, it wasn't the best way to build a lasting relationship between police and community. When Chief Melvyn Prince crashed his motorcycle, he decided that battling residents over tickets wasn't the best way to spend his life. He left the force permanently.

Broadie, by then a power on the council, believed the department required a makeover. She envisioned the new chief in the spirit of her grandmother — a strict, no-bullshit leader who could whip Woodmere into shape. East Cleveland Lieutenant LaMont Lockhart appeared to be that very person.

Eleven years of working the streets of East Cleveland can weigh heavily on a mind. In the decade Lockhart spent in the bombed-out suburb, he witnessed the kind of things only screenwriters imagine: a dope dealer beaten so hard across the head with an iron skillet that the pan broke into three pieces. An 11-year-old girl, still in school uniform, shot square in the chest by a neighborhood gangbanger. A six-year-old curled on an apartment floor, staring at the cold body of her mother.

Lockhart's walkie-talkie seemed to forever crackle with news of another horror. It got to be too much — especially for Lockhart's wife, who quivered when the phone rang, scared of the news to come. Her husband, after all, had been shot at eight times.

So when a city employee told Lockhart about the chief's opening in Woodmere, he jumped. Sure, he knew of the department's reputation for ineptitude. But he looked forward to rebuilding it. As a teenager, his first real job had been in Woodmere, at Corky and Lenny's deli. Now he would be the village's principal crime-fighter. "It felt like I was coming full circle," he says.

Lockhart thrived in his new job. He won four federal grants, allowing him to buy bulletproof vests and hire more officers. His liquid brown eyes and warm smile quickly won over residents, who'd become accustomed to police merely shaking them down with speeding tickets. "In 38 years, we'd never had a better police chief," says shoe-store owner Leuchtag Howard.

Then Broadie ascended to mayor.

At first she heaped praise on the new chief, bragging up the man who would reform the department. Lockhart felt equally fond of the mayor. "I thought she had good intentions. She seemed to have the community at heart."

Yet it would take only a few months before he revised this thesis. City Hall was small, and Lockhart couldn't help but hear rumors of the mayor's racism. They flew like shrapnel through the office, and Broadie didn't seem eager to disabuse anyone. "This is a black community, and I only want black people working here," officer Mark Ramsey claims she once said. According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission files, Broadie also allegedly told an assistant, "I can't stand those white yuppies."

At first, Lockhart didn't pay much heed. Though black himself, he never really thought much about skin. In East Cleveland, one didn't have the luxury of reflecting on color. "You had to depend on your staff every day. You couldn't get caught up in that," he says. "In our world, there wasn't black or white. Everyone was blue." Lockhart intended to run his new department the same way.

But it soon became apparent that the mayor had different ideas. If the chief considered color an afterthought, he says, the mayor "tried to put color to everything she did."

Weak management had led to the department's laughingstock reputation. It's why Lockhart wanted to promote Mark Ramsey to sergeant. The 10-year veteran was as sturdy as a suspension bridge. He'd already demonstrated his leadership, running the department when Chief Prince was hospitalized.

All Lockhart needed was the mayor's signature.

But Broadie wasn't quick with her pen. When Lockhart asked about the holdup, the mayor said she wouldn't approve the promotion.

Lockhart was taken aback. He wasn't used to the mayor flat-out vetoing a personnel decision — especially one he felt so strongly about. There had to be some sort of reason.

But the mayor's response was less than satisfactory. "I don't like him," she said simply. "He's done a lot of things you don't know about." When asked to elaborate, Broadie refused. "This conversation is over," she said.

Confused, Lockhart searched Ramsey's file. He found no complaints, no suspensions or excessive disciplinary actions. Nothing to warrant Broadie's reaction.

But Lockhart decided not to question. Broadie had been in Woodmere a lot longer than he had — maybe she knew something. So he submitted another name for approval: Bill Letso, an experienced officer with superior evaluations.

Broadie didn't support him for the same reason: "I don't like him," she said. This time, Lockhart didn't have to revisit Letso's file. He already knew it was Ivory-soap clean.

Ugly thoughts started tapping on his head: Both Ramsey and Letso are white. The mayor, he realized, "has a problem with white officers."

The chief's thesis gained greater weight when his next suggestion for sergeant — Gerald Tate, a black officer with qualifications akin to Letso's — was approved automatically.

Slowly, Lockhart began to sniff the sour scent of racism. He dug back through disciplinary files, finding an alarming pattern that showed the mayor "heavily favoring the black officers."

Take Masai Brown, a black cop with a rap sheet that rivaled Ol' Dirty Bastard's. In 1999, he'd gone to Cleveland to solicit hookers. As he drove away, he noticed the woman had stolen his cell phone. Rather than simply report it missing, Brown, according to police reports, decided the best way to handle the situation was to drive back and shoot at the woman.

When the prostitutes didn't show up to testify in court, the charges were dropped. But Brown kept his job — and kept abusing his power. He was cited for watching online porn at work and for trying to pick up women at a local hotel. He also falsified a report, then tried to get another officer to lie for him.

Lockhart twice recommended that Brown be fired. Instead, Broadie promoted him to detective and eventually sergeant.

Then there was John Patterson. In 2003, the black officer was off duty when he spotted a woman driving erratically in Mayfield Heights. Rather than call Mayfield police, Patterson trailed the driver. When the terrified woman finally pulled over in a parking lot, Patterson approached, telling her, "Stop your vehicle — if you hit me, I'll shoot you," according to Patterson's personnel file. The woman, not knowing whether Patterson was a real cop or not, started crying. The mayor laughed off the incident, giving Patterson a one-day suspension.

Meanwhile, Mark Ramsey was working under far more stringent supervision.

Since Broadie's meeting with Lockhart, she hadn't bothered to hide her distaste for the white officer. She referred to him publicly as a "nasty individual," Lockhart claims. And where she was lenient with black officers, she was quick to bring the hammer down on whites.

In 2002, white officer Tim Ellis approached Ramsey for permission to change a light bulb in his cruiser. But removing equipment from a police car is illegal. When Lockhart found out about the infraction, he thought the officer deserved a verbal reprimand, and that Ramsey should be given a gentle reminder of the rules.

But the mayor had other ideas. She told Lockhart to suspend Ellis for a day without pay. Then she ordered the same for Ramsey.

Lockhart was disgusted. "The mayor never did anything to a black sergeant when one of their guys did something wrong," he says. The racism was "blatant."

Broadie hadn't hired him to be police chief, he came to realize. She'd hired him to be her henchman. It was a role that Lockhart refused. But when he started standing up for white officers, Broadie set the dogs on him.

After graduating from the Cleveland Heights Police Academy in 2001, Amy Mengay spent frustrating months searching for a job. So when Woodmere called, offering a part-time slot, she went looking for champagne.

Mengay's father wasn't as excited. He worried about Amy being one of the few women on the job. But Mengay swatted away his concerns. She was a tomboy; she'd been playing with the boys all her life.

The Mengays never considered that her gender wouldn't be the issue. The problem was her pale, sunburn-prone skin.

On one of her first days on the job, a colleague told her to "watch her back" because "the mayor's a racist," she says. A black police officer whispered to the chief's assistant that the mayor "had it in for" the white officer.

Mengay dismissed the words as hyperbole. "I was just so excited to have a job, I didn't really notice the racism at first."

In her first six months, Mengay received stellar reviews. Soon, she was promoted to full-time. The mayor would glare at her in the hallways and refuse to acknowledge her in public, but there was no real harm done, Mengay thought.

But in 2003, Mengay sideswiped a colleague's car while backing her cruiser out of the lot. It was barely scratched, but the accident resulted in the officer's first write-up. Lockhart gently told her to be more careful.

Seven months later, Mengay was cruising down Chagrin when a 16-year-old, ignoring a stop sign, barreled into the side of Mengay's car, crushing it like a soda can. When Ramsey, Lockhart, and insurance agents investigated the crash, all determined that the teenager had been solely at fault.

Then the officer dented her bumper on a telephone pole, causing $808 in damage. Lockhart gave Mengay a written reprimand, but he wasn't really concerned. When you spend 40 hours a week driving a cruiser, minor accidents are "standard," the chief says. So he was wholly unprepared for the mayor's response.

In July of 2004, Broadie summoned Lockhart to her office. "I want you to fire Amy," she told him. She had determined that Mengay was a "safety liability."

Lockhart knew Mengay wasn't perfect, but "others were much worse." Lockhart considered it the mayor's most blatant act of racism yet, and he refused to take part. "I won't do it," the chief replied.

The mayor looked at him with surprise, then narrowed her eyes. "If you don't fire her, I'm going to fire you," she said.

A short time later, the mayor handed Mengay a pink slip. She left Lockhart alone for the time being, but their relationship noticeably cooled.

Mengay, however, refused to leave quietly. She hired a lawyer and demanded an appeal hearing with the village council. The mayor began to backpedal. If Mengay agreed to go on probation and signed a release agreeing not to sue, she could have her job back. But Mengay knew that "probation" only meant the mayor would be on her like a pit bull, and she'd soon be back in the same situation. She refused the deal.

At the hearing, both Lockhart and Mengay's partner, Tim Ellis, testified that her firing was unwarranted. It didn't sway the council. Daniel Nutaitis, the sole white member, was the only one who voted to save Mengay's job.

Now the mayor turned her sights on Ellis. A few hours after the hearing, Broadie called Ellis to her office. She fired him for showing "disrespect toward superior officers" and giving "testimony that we believe is untruthful." She also accused Ellis of irresponsibly tasering an unruly motorist — though superiors had already ruled the incident justified.

"The reason I got fired," Ellis says, "was, I didn't give the council the answers the mayor was looking for in the hearing." And he knew the effects of appealing to the council for justice.

He and Mengay both filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an agency that rules in favor about 10 percent of the time. But the EEOC declared that both had been unfairly fired. When its investigators met with Woodmere officials to work out a deal, however, council members walked out.

Today, Ellis is working as a part-time officer in Sagamore Hills; Mengay is still looking for a job. Their case is now in the hands of the U.S. Department of Justice, which is suing the village for discrimination.

Not long after Mengay's hearing, Lockhart started feeling sick. Night sweats. Fever. Abdominal cramping that left him curled in the fetal position. He thought it was stress. Doctors told him he was suffering from a severe inflammation of the colon. They ordered bed rest for four months.

While Lockhart went on leave, Sergeant Anthony Jordan, cousin of Councilman James Jordan, was made acting chief. It appeared the mayor was hoping the change would be permanent. When Lockhart returned in the spring of 2005, he was shocked to find that his office key wouldn't work. The mayor had changed the locks.

The chief marched into Broadie's office, where she coolly informed him that after four years on the job, he was being put on probation. The mayor had prepared a letter spelling out his sins. They included paperwork that supposedly hadn't been filed and complaints that went without response.

Lockhart knew the charges were bogus — and he could prove it. Experience had taught him the importance of keeping detailed files. So the chief typed up a point-by-point memo, with the exact dates he'd completed the aforementioned tasks.

The mayor apparently didn't appreciate the back talk. The next week, she curtly informed Lockhart that she was taking away his patrol car privileges, saying that due to his recent illness, she was concerned he might pass out at the wheel. He became the only chief in the county driving to work in a Honda Accord.

But the chief kept plugging away. "I enjoyed what I did," he explains. "And I still believed the mayor might change." The only person he managed to convince was himself.

In May 2005, Broadie plopped a new performance evaluation on his desk. The timing was off; evaluations were usually done yearly — though the mayor often forgot about them. And in Lockhart's last report — twenty-six months before — the mayor had rated the chief "outstanding" in all areas. Now, she'd determined he "needed improvement" in all the same places.

The evaluation was merely an opening punch. In July, Broadie summoned Lockhart to her office. She was suspending him without pay for 10 days. In a follow-up letter, Broadie accused the chief of "repeated failure to properly lead and supervise the police department." He'd been particularly neglectful about "signing in and out" and making "required reports."

Lockhart stared at the letter in disbelief. In his 17-year career, he'd never been suspended. There was no way he'd let this pass uncontested. So Lockhart got himself a lawyer and demanded a hearing. Dozens of chiefs wrote letters of support. Lockhart "is a top-shelf chief," Thomas Samples, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Police Chiefs Association, said at the time. "He doesn't deserve a blemish on his record."

On September 21, dozens of supporters poured into the normally empty council chambers, prepared to speak on the chief's behalf. But an hour and a half into the meeting, Broadie threw a curveball, announcing that she'd cut Lockhart's suspension from 10 days to 3. According to village law, employees could only contest suspensions of more than 3 days. And Lockhart had already served 10.

That's when he decided to do something entirely uncharacteristic: He quit.

"All I have is my name," the chief explains. "That's all my dad left me." And it was clear the mayor wouldn't stop until it had been smeared beyond recognition. Lockhart was immediately snapped up by the RTA police. "I knew of LaMont prior to his time in Woodmere," explains RTA Chief James Joyce. "He had an excellent reputation and good street experience."

But last June, Lockhart took steps to eliminate the dirt covering his name. He too filed a complaint with the EEOC, alleging that he'd been the target of retaliatory tactics. In August, the EEOC ruled in his favor. His case was added to the federal discrimination suit against Woodmere. It's not about the money, he says. "I don't want the mayor or council to be able to treat anyone else the same way they treated me."

Yolanda Broadie settles herself into an overstuffed leather chair. She'd much rather talk about a reporter's ring than these "ugly" allegations of racism.

It's so ridiculous, she finally says, tapping her long manicured fingers on the wooden table. Color had no bearing on her actions. "I have friends who are white, doctors who are white," she says. "Even my law director is white." The allegations of racism come from a "few disgruntled employees" and "exaggerated media reports."

Broadie says she's looking forward to the federal court battle. "We've done nothing wrong."

When questioned about her actions, Broadie rattles off a practiced, abbreviated version of the town's defense. Mengay, she insists, was let go for safety reasons: "I don't know of any officers who have had more accidents in that short of a time."

Ellis was also a liability. "We were lucky we didn't get sued over the taser incident," she claims.

And Lockhart was a "disappointment . . . I thought we were on the same page. But as time went on, we weren't." She refuses to elaborate.

Council members refused Scene's repeated interview requests, but Broadie insists the village is running better than it ever has.

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