SDPD recruit alleges racial discrimination

Posted at 1:57 PM, Feb 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-03 16:57:13-05

A San Diego police recruit said his dream of becoming an officer turned into a nightmare, and he has filed a lawsuit against the city, accusing his supervisors of racial discrimination and harassment.

Matthew Francois said he had a concern during field training, so he contacted a mentor in the department for advice. It went downhill after that, according to the new officer.

Francois said he always wanted to be a police officer.

"It's something I wanted to do since I was six years old," Francois said.

He will never forget the day the San Diego Police Department hired him in 2014.

"I felt great," Francois said. "It was my first job offer out of college and it was a dream job."

But that changed when he started the Field Training Program. Francois began in the Southeastern and Mid-City divisions.

"The field training officers I had, they did things by policies and procedures in the blue book which is what guides the Field Training Program," Francois said.

That included running a records search on the people he stopped. His lawsuit claims when he went to the Northeastern Division, which is 60 percent white, Francois' superiors changed the rules.

Francois said he stopped a white driver and ran a background check.

"I was told not to do so because he didn't look like a criminal," Francois said.

In the lawsuit, Francois claims his training officer told him criminals "had tattoos" and "gave lip."

Francois' supervisors were white.

"I was completely shocked and that's one of the reasons I couldn't sleep that night," Francois said. "I contacted Sgt. Scott to make sure I wasn't the one that misinterpreted what he was saying," Francois said.

At the time, he did not know his mentor, Sgt. Art Scott, already had a lawsuit against the department for racial discrimination.

After Francois reached out to Scott and his superiors found out, he alleges in the lawsuit they had "an orchestrated plan to target and punish [him]."

"The way they spun it though was it was a black officer, black sergeant, trying to fire up a bunch of black men," said Dan Gilleon, Francois' attorney.

Francois said the department fired him after he said he refused to resign.

"I did a great job. I was a great officer," Francois said. He said he made some rookie mistakes "that every probationary officer makes," but that what happened to him was wrong.

He hopes to return to law enforcement.

The San Diego Police Department released this statement to Team 10:

"We just became aware of the lawsuit filed by Matthew Francois. The San Diego Police Department has a zero tolerance policy regarding discrimination and harassment in the workplace. We take these types of allegations very seriously. Please reach out to the City Attorney's Office for any further questions."

A spokesperson for the City Attorney's Office said they will "defend the City."