published Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Cleveland councilman accused of racist remark

Statement against Charlie McKenzie
Statement against Charlie McKenzie

WARNING: The attached documents contain racist terms and may offend some readers.

A Cleveland, Tenn., city councilman resigned from his job as a part-time sheriff's deputy after an investigation into racial slurs and statements co-workers said he made.

Councilman Charlie McKenzie quit late last week, sheriff's office spokesman Bob Gault said.

"There was an internal investigation that was conducted after two deputies filed the statements," Gault said. "Before any disciplinary action could be taken, he resigned from his position."

McKenzie has medical issues that contributed to his decision to resign, Gault said.

Two white deputies, Anthony Liner and Kristi Barton, who worked alongside McKenzie, filed statements Jan. 18 about racial slurs they said they heard McKenzie make.

McKenzie, who was elected to the City Council in 2010, didn't return messages left Wednesday afternoon at his home and on a cellphone provided to him as a council member by Cleveland.

In his statement, Liner wrote that while serving papers on Jan. 17 on Pugh Street, McKenzie said, "sounds like a typical n ---- ," when a black grandmother said she didn't know how to contact her grandson.

"Over the last several months, while training Deputy Charlie Mc-Kenzie, I have heard him make a number of derogatory statements regarding race. I have heard him refer to African Americans as spook, coon, spade and n---- ," Liner wrote.

Before serving on the City Council, McKenzie was one of seven elected constables in Bradley County, Gault said.

McKenzie was hired in August to provide court services as a part-time sheriff's deputy, Gault said, because of his experience as constable.

"That's what constables do, they serve papers," he said.

In her statement, Barton wrote that McKenzie hadn't used "derogatory terminology" in her presence, but that he said that blacks will run from process service. She wrote that McKenzie asked her if the "black boy," referring to a deputy on the sheriff's warrant team, would arrest a black person.

When she said the deputy "would arrest anyone who needed to be arrested, [McKenzie] said that's good, because most of them won't, because they like to stick together."

City officials -- including the council's only black member, Councilman Avery Johnson -- became aware of the controversy on Wednesday, said Sue Zius, assistant to the mayor.

Johnson didn't return a call seeking comment.

"SOUTHEAST NAACP" EMAIL

The incident came to light after an email purporting to be from the "Southeast NAACP" was sent Wednesday morning to multiple media outlets.

The email isn't connected with the Bradley County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said its First Vice President RaSharon King.

"At this time, we haven't made any kind of statement," said King, who said she only heard of the controversy after being contacted Wednesday by reporters.

The email states McKenzie's comments are "just the latest in what some feel is a pattern of systematic discrimination under Sheriff Jim Ruth."

On Sept. 1, the day Ruth took office, he demoted a black captain, the email states. Between 2010-2012, the email states that Ruth fired four black deputies and a Brazilian deputy.

Gault couldn't immediately confirm late Wednesday whether that many black employees had been fired. He dismissed any notion that Ruth had terminated black employees because of their race.

"Nothing was racially motivated," said Gault. "They were terminated for cause."

Ruth could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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