Sherman Pruitt files racial discrimination suit after job offer rescinded by Edmonds Police Department

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Cop Says He Was Shown KKK Imagery, Asked ‘What Are You Going to Do About the Blacks,’ Before Police Chief Job Offer Was Revoked

Reprinted from the Atlanta Black Star (Dec 19, 2023)
By Taylor Ardrey

A Black man is suing the city of Edmonds, Washington, and its officials after his job offer for police chief was rescinded.

Sherman Pruitt alleges that the decision was made due to his race. In the filing made public by The Daily Herald, City Council member Vivian Olson and Mayor Mike Nelson are listed as defendants.

The city offered Pruitt — who identifies as Black, Native American, and Filipino — the position in 2020. However, things took a turn when he still had to undergo a challenging hiring process when he was more than qualified for the role with over a decade in law enforcement.

Pruitt was the Sauk-Suiattle Tribal Police Department chief — a position he continues to hold today — when he applied for the Edmonds job. If it had gone through, Pruitt would have served as the first person of color to become the city’s police chief.

“Defendants used falsifications and racist dog whistles to frame the 6’2”, 285-pound Pruitt as a caricature: the angry, violent, and dishonest Black man,” the lawsuit stated. “This inaccurate stereotyping, and the different job application standard than used for white Director-level candidates, led to Edmonds unlawfully withdrawing his job offer.”

The lawsuit claims that the city has a history of not hiring minorities; more specifically, the police department had no Black officers. It says that during Pruitt’s hiring process, he was held to “higher standards” compared to his white counterparts, and Olson independently started a probe into his background. According to the document, it differed from other applicants the city’s HR department vetted.

It was discovered in email communications that Olson allegedly described Pruitt as “THIS black police chief,” the lawsuit said. She also considered him “not gentlemanly” and “too militant,” as well as other racial stereotypes. Olson not only falsely accused him of perjury but also domestic violence, according to the allegations.

Although he passed the background check, the lawsuit claims she leaked the stories to the media and was met with backlash from colleagues. The filing claims Mayor Nelson pointed out his race as well.

“Mayor Nelson fixated on racial issues, such as asking, ‘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,” per the suit.

Data shows that the city has a 77 percent white population. Pruitt alleges that he was subjected to racist imagery of the KKK during his public interview, and the city did not step in.

The allegations led to officials withdrawing his offer, blaming it on Pruitt’s failure to disclose that he applied for a chief position in another Washington city. However, according to the lawsuit, the application never existed. In a statement to The Daily Herald, Olson denied that race played a role in the outcome.

The incident has taken an emotional and financial toll on Pruitt, and the lawsuit, filed on Dec. 14, seeks relief, including compensatory and punitive damages.

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