Groundbreaking Lawsuit: Ex-Police Chief Hits Edmonds City, Mayor, and Councilmember with Racism Allegations

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Former Confirmed Police Chief Files Lawsuit Against City of Edmonds, its Mayor, and a Councilmember for Race Discrimination

Sherman Pruitt

Please see the attached complaint filed today in Seattle federal court against the City of Edmonds, Councilmember Vivian Olson, and Mayor Mike Nelson by Sauk-Suiattle Police Chief Sherman Pruitt, who was confirmed by the Edmonds City Council as the mayor’s choice for Edmonds Chief of Police only to have the offer withdrawn one week later.

This is a race discrimination case where the defendants unlawfully judged Chief Pruitt, who is Black, Native American, and Filipino, based on his skin color, then unlawfully subjected him to a different hiring process than white candidates. In doing so, the defendants used falsifications and racist dog whistles to frame Chief Pruitt as a caricature: the angry, violent, and dishonest Black man.


In the fall of 2020, the City of Edmonds offered Chief Pruitt its Police Chief job, for which he was eminently qualified. Chief Pruitt had served his country honorably for more than 30 years, first in the military and then in law enforcement. He was endorsed for the Edmonds position by a litany of prominent law enforcement officials including the Tulalip Police Chief and Tribal Chair, two former police chiefs, an FBI Supervisor, a retired FBI agent, and an Assistant U.S. Attorney.

The hiring of a Black Chief of Police was a first for Edmonds, which had a long history of excluding minorities from leadership. At the time of the job offer, there was not a single Black officer on the police force, and the City’s entire leadership, including the mayor, council, and each of the eight director-level positions, was white.

Throughout his candidacy, Chief Pruitt was subjected to inappropriate and outrageous race-based attacks by the defendants. Defendant Olson pressed a false and racist narrative that painted Chief Pruitt as allegedly not “gentlemanly” enough, not fitting into Edmonds’ “culture,” and too “militant,” among other accusations.

Mayor Nelson also fixated on racial issues asking Chief Pruitt “what are you going to do about the Blacks around here,” “how are you going to handle the Blacks,” and raising concerns about whether the Edmonds community would accept Chief Pruitt because of his skin color.

On top of racist comments like the above, the city failed to prevent the hacking of Chief Pruitt’s public virtual interview, which led to a display of a Ku Klux Klan rally and other inappropriate slurs.

Despite enduring such hateful and racist remarks and actions, Chief Pruitt was confirmed as Edmonds Police Chief by a majority of the City Council on December 8, 2020. The vote followed a hearing in which the city’s HR leaders reported that Chief Pruitt had passed his background check, which included job reference interviews, criminal history searches and a psychological assessment, and exceeded all job requirements for the position.

Defendant Olson, apparently not ready to accept the fact that a Black man would be serving as Police Chief, conducted her own unparalleled investigation to target Chief Pruitt, a private investigation Olson had never conducted of a white candidate for any Director-level position in the Edmonds city government.

Olson then made a number of slanderous accusations against Chief Pruitt, accusing him of domestic violence, documented perjury, and thinking that he was “above the law” – accusations which are completely false as detailed in the complaint.

Olson’s repeated racially based questions and her departure from the standard hiring practice for the first Black Police Chief was so jarring that four out of seven councilmembers involved in the confirmation process voiced outrage over Olson’s racist conduct, including describing Olson’s vendetta against Chief Pruitt as a racially biased “witch hunt.”

Sadly, and despite Chief Pruitt’s exemplary background and qualifications, these race-based attacks had the desired effect. These falsehoods were widely reported in the press and Mayor Nelson finally succumbed to racial stereotypes by withdrawing Edmonds’ job offer to Chief Pruitt. In doing so, he falsely claimed that he withdrew the job offer because Chief Pruitt purportedly failed to disclose a prior job application. As you’ll read in the complaint, there was no undisclosed job application and no record of such an application. Relying on unverified rumors is another example of the City’s irregular hiring practice applied to the sole Black candidate.

Eventually, the city hired a white police chief.

“Sherman Pruitt was the most qualified applicant for Police Chief. That’s why the City offered him the job,” said Beth Bloom of Bloom Law PLLC who is representing Chief Pruitt in this matter. “But by subjecting Chief Pruitt to different standards and procedures and withdrawing his job offer, Mayor Nelson knowingly relied on racially discriminatory stereotypes and false information.”

“Both Councilmember Olson and Mayor Nelson repeatedly made race-based comments about Chief Pruitt. Olson, as part of her racially charged campaign to reverse his job offer, attacked him repeatedly using racist dog whistles,” added Bloom. “Olson’s false accusations and reckless disregard for Chief Pruitt’s reputation and career reflect her failure to see him as human.”

Chief Pruitt remarked, “Serving as Edmonds Chief of Police would have been a great opportunity, but despite all my qualifications and experience, the defendants took away my job offer simply because of the color of my skin. I want to see employers stop subjecting Black job applicants to a more exacting hiring process. Racial stereotypes, like the ones I endured during my job application, limit opportunities for all people of color. I hope by filing this lawsuit, Edmonds will take measures to prevent job discrimination in the future.”

Bloom added, “Edmonds broke the fundamental tenants of equal employment opportunity. Employers must use the same standards and procedures for all job applicants. Subjecting minority candidates to more scrutiny during the job application process is wrong. When employers do this, it hurts the applicant’s chances of getting a job.”


View Complaint

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