Aug. 30, 2000 -- Current and former agents suing the Secret Service revealed evidence today they say shows the agency has condoned and refused to stop racist acts.
During a Washington press conference this morning, attorneys for the 10 African-American agents who filed a class-action civil lawsuit in May said the agency has demonstrated a pattern of failing to follow up on allegations of racial discrimination over the last 20 years. The lawsuit alleges the agency has discriminated against the black agents through hiring practices, assignments, lateral transfers, promotion opportunities and bonuses. Further, they said, agents who have complained of discrimination have faced retaliation.
The agents — including those assigned to protect the president and vice president — revealed some of their personal experiences at this morning’s press conference.
Robert Moore, who retired from the service in 1993 after 22 years, described an incident he said occurred in the Houston field office. While returning by car from an assignment with five colleagues, one agent, a former Houston cop, used the “N-word” while telling stories about his time on the police force, Moore said. When he complained to authorities in his field office, he said he was told not to be so “thin-skinned.”
“My evaluations were downgraded, and I was given demeaning assignments until I left that office,” Moore said. “It’s typical.”
The attorneys played an audio tape of threats phoned in to a dedicated line at black agent Ken Banner’s home in Philadelphia in 1990. Only Banner’s colleagues knew the number, he says.
“You little n——,” one tape said. “You better leave Philly or you’ll never leave alive.”
“It’s chilling for anybody to come home and hear that on a tape machine, much less on a tape machine dedicated to an employer,” attorney David J. Shaffer said.
Leroy Hendricks, currently assigned to Vice President Al Gore’s detail, described his first assignment while in the Springfield, Ill., field office — advance work for Marilyn Quayle. He sat through a dinner with fellow agents and local police who told racial jokes all evening. “I thought it was an initiation,” he said.
Attorney Ron Schmidt said black agents assigned to protect Gore complained about the racial atmosphere on the detail, but the agency would not divulge its report on the complaints.
‘Good Ole Boys’
Shaffer also revealed new evidence of Secret Service members being involved in the “Good Ole Boy Roundup” in Tennessee.
The roundup has been described as a “whites-only” gathering of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and other federal law-enforcement officers and at which these agents discriminated against blacks by posting racist signs, wearing racist T-shirts, performing racist skits and playing racist music. The roundup was allegedly held annually in Tennessee over a period of 16 years.
“The roundup was the good ole boy roundup,” Shaffer said, “and the good ole boys of the Secret Service still run this agency. They just do it covertly and secretly in private meetings held in Washington.”
The lawsuit claims in two separate years a white Secret Service agent was elected president of the roundup, and one year an agent was elected, “Redneck of the Year.”
At this morning’s press conference, two agents who worked in the Atlanta field office said they knew of co-workers who attended the roundup and saw flyers promoting the event.
“They taunted me: ‘You should come, you’d get a bang out of it,’” said former agent Janelle Walker Clark.
Atmosphere of Harassment?
In May, the 10 agents filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Secret Service.
The suit — charging a pervasive atmosphere of racial harassment and retaliation against those who challenged the status quo — seeks compensation for the agents; an injunction barring the Secret Service from continuing illegal discriminatory practices; and an order requiring it to reform its employment policies and practices.
“This case is currently before a court of law and that is the most appropriate venue to address these claims,” a spokesman for the Secret Service told ABCNEWS Washington affiliate WJLA. “We are proud of our record on diversity and our efforts to provide a level playing field for all of our employees.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.