DETROIT (AP) — Macomb County has settled a lawsuit by a black sheriff’s deputy who said he was called “Buckwheat” and suffered other indignities as part of a repeated pattern of racial harassment.
In the middle of the trial, after just four days of testimony, attorneys for Raymond Langley and the Detroit-area county settled the case during a private meeting Monday with U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani.
The terms of the deal are confidential. A court reporter was present in Battani’s chambers but a transcript will not be released.
“A representative of the county’s insurance carrier was in court each day. I think that was what drove the settlement,” Langley’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, said Wednesday.
Langley is a former Mount Clemens police officer who joined the Macomb County sheriff’s office in 2005, one of just a few black officers among nearly 200 deputies. He said dispatchers referred to him as “Buckwheat,” a black character from the old TV series “Our Gang.”
In 2009, Langley said he found a book in his car on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the cover had a man standing in front of a burning cross giving a Nazi salute.
There was no dispute that the sheriff’s office had an unflattering statue of a black man with beads named “Jamal,” similar to a lawn jockey statue, in a room where deputies wrote reports.
Langley said he was told use of the N-word was not considered offensive around the department. He also said his bosses took no action when he complained. He sued for emotional distress and lost opportunities for promotion.
“There was a culture in that department,” Gordon said. “Complaints were swept under the rug. And to think this was law enforcement. That’s the other scary thing about it. What’s happening out on the streets?”
An attorney for the county, Thomas Paxton, declined to comment on the settlement. Messages seeking comment were left with Sheriff Anthony Wickersham and county Executive Mark Hackel, who was sheriff until 2011.
Macomb County has a population of roughly 850,000. About 10 percent of residents are black.