SANFORD, Fla. - The Sanford Police Department, an agency scrutinized for its handling of the Trayvon Martin shooting case, is under fire once again—and this time, it involves one of its own.
Officer Michael Hernandez filed a federal lawsuit against the agency claiming he was the victim of discrimination.
The suit says Hernandez, a Puerto Rico native, joined the department in 2008 as a patrol officer. A couple of years later, he was promoted to School Resource Officer at Millenia Middle School.
In July 2011, Hernandez responded to a call with a white police officer. After clearing the call, Hernandez and the officer engaged in a conversation about an internal affairs investigation the other officer was the subject of, the suit says.
A month later, then-police chief Bill Lee confronted Hernandez and told him “I don’t need you running things from behind the scenes,” the suit says.
Shortly after that, Lee allegedly told Hernandez he was starting rumors. Then, Lee pulled Hernandez from his School Resource Officer position, according to the lawsuit.
Hernandez was then assigned to work night patrol with Sergeant Ned Golden, the suit claims. It goes on to say “it was well known within the Sanford Police Department that Ned Golden disliked [Hernandez] because of his national origin.”
Hernandez tried to get a new assignment: “The Plaintiff reminded Chief Lee that Sergeant Golden did not like him, and that he believed he would be subjected to a hostile work environment based on his national origin,” the suit reads. The chief allegedly told Hernandez “you’re just going to have to handle it.”
Hernandez also claims he was assigned to the worst zones in Sanford because of his nationality. He says on a number of occasions his life was put at risk because he did not receive back up on emergency calls.
The officer decided to become a reserve officer in January 2012 so his career was not ruined, the suit says.
In the suit, Hernandez claims he has suffered damages “including, but not limited to, humiliation, damage to career, and/or loss of employment, earnings, benefits, and other non-pecuniary and intangible injuries, and is entitled to judgment and compensation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
The Sanford Police Department did not return calls seeking comment on the lawsuit.