SHEFFIELD LAKE, Ohio — A police officer who says he was the butt of a racist joke made by a former chief of police has filed a discrimination charge against the city. The officer, Kieth Pool, is also seeking the release of public documents regarding other racist incidents allegedly involving Sheffield Lake's former top cop.
The catalyst was an incident involving Pool that was captured on camera inside the station on June 25.
Footage of the incident shows Sheffield Lake Chief of Police Anthony Campo placing a folded piece of paper over the world "police" on a yellow raincoat lying on a desk.
While it's not clear what was written on the piece of paper, in a June interview, the Sheffield Lake law director said that "from my understanding, (the writing) was related to the KKK."
Later, Pool, who is Black, entered the room, and Campo pointed out the piece of paper to him. After Campo left the room, Pool had a discussion with several other officers in the room.
"Even when I watch it now, I am in disbelief that this happened to me," Pool said in a Zoom interview with his legal representation present.
Pool said that after showing him the raincoat, Campo called over other officers to see what he had done.
"My my exact words were, are you serious? And I just looked at him and left it," Pool said. "What else can you say to the chief of police who's done something so heinous? It's so awful."
Department records show that the chief was placed on administrative leave on June 29 pending an investigation into the matter. Campo submitted his retirement notice the same day he was placed on leave.
Records show Campo was with the department for 33 years.
Campo later said that the incident was a "joke that got out of hand."
According to the law firm Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway, which represents Pool, Campo's conduct goes beyond a single joke.
"Our investigation has revealed that Chief Campo referred to Officer Pool as the 'n-word' and said he did not want an 'n-word' working in his department," said Ashlie Case Sletvold, a partner with Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway.
The law firm also claims the city has kept public records under wraps that allegedly detail additional incidents of harassment by Campo toward other officers of color.
"This was not the first time doing something racist and offensive to me or other employees," Pool said. "It was just the first time they got caught on video."
The charge seeks the release of other documents showing "racist images Campo generated and posted while on duty."
"The city provided the surveillance video and other records but failed to provide the racist images Campo created to mock and humiliate employees of color or various official memoranda he issued during his tenure," the law firm said.
According to the law firm, Campo used police department equipment to create and print out offensive images, which were left on the desks of other officers.
"The images included one of Officer Pool as the grim reaper (describing him as 'The Raccoon Reaper')," the firm wrote.
Another image that was printed out allegedly portrayed another officer of color, the law firm stated.
"Because the City of Sheffield Lake has not fully complied with its obligations under the Ohio Public Records Act, Officer Pool's attorneys have asked the state's highest court to mandate the release of these public records," the law firm wrote.
So far, the city has only provided the surveillance video relating to the incident involving Pool, the law firm said.
"The city's failure to turn over the public records documenting his misconduct makes me feel like they want to protect the ex-chief," Pool said.
"If it wasn't bad enough that the former police chief was engaged in rampant racist workplace harassment, now the city that hired him appears to be helping to cover it up," said Joseph C. Peiffer, the managing partner of Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway. "Racial harassment has no place in law enforcement, and we will ensure that the City of Sheffield Lake will face a reckoning for all of the despicable behavior conducted by its former Police Chief."
Pool, who still works for the department under the new chief, Andrew Kory, calls it a healthier environment than under Campo.
"Working there since the incident and the removal of Chief Campo has been more upbeat," he said.
The law firm has filed a discrimination charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) and a mandamus petition with the Ohio Supreme Court regarding the matter.
According to documents provided by the law firm, Ohio law prohibits individuals from bringing a lawsuit in state court until they have first filed a charge with the OCRC and received a Notice of Right to Sue.
It will be up to the Ohio Supreme Court to decide how to handle the case and the OCRC to investigate the charge.
This story was originally published by Drew Scofield and Nadeen Abusada on Scripps station WEWS in Cleveland.