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Ex-point guard sues USD over racial discrimination

March 10, 2010 - 5:12 pm

UPDATE: I’ve uploaded the pdf of the complaint. Download it with this link.

Move over UC San Diego: The firestorm over racism in San Diego’s institutions of higher education has just grown to include University of San Diego.

A class-action lawsuit has been filed in US District Court against USD and the San Diego Police Department alleging racial discrimination, racial profiling and illegal detention and searches of African-American students.  The only named plaintiff, so far, is former USD Toreros basketball star Trumaine Johnson.

According to the complaint, filed by local attorney Mary Frances Prevost:

Plaintiff represents a class of African Americans who have been and will be subjected to the humiliation of being targeted, harassed, interrogated, detained, searched and wrongfully accused by Defendants USD and CITY for their policies of practices and racial profiling.

The court brief details the history of diversity on USD’s campus since 1990 when the university accepted the very first $1-million Irvine Foundation grant available to promote a cultural-diversity program. Yet, the suit points out, African Americans still make up about 2 percent of the population, which is on par with statistics from UCSD.

Johnson’s personal grievance is over a December 2008 incident in which the point guard was suspended from the team after being accused of kicking a white student’s car. A follow-up investigation showed the footprint did not match Johnson, the complaint says.

[USD] further defamed Mr. Johnson by issuing a press release announcing his suspension for ‘rules violations’ to local and national news agencies which then aired the libelous comments in the press and on the air.

In an interview with Union-Tribune, Johnson said he did not know what the “‘rules violations” were, but assumed they were for  “missing a class twice,” and “a minor infraction of team rules.” The suit alleges that this rules violation was the vandalism case.

Johnson’s attorney also cites a second event: In February 2009, the suit alleges that Johnson was “unlawfully stopped, racially profiled, tackled to the ground… kneed in the back, pepper sprayed in the face and then wrongfully arrested” by a USD public-safety officer. He then “begged for medical attention” and the officer allegedly refused to provide him water with which to flush his eyes. The officer, in turn, made a citizen’s arrest, telling the SDPD that Johnson assaulted him.

The complaint points out that, on the same day, non-black students were caught “harboring weapons,” committing battery, illegally possessing drugs and alcohol and none of them were handed over to police custody.

Further, the complaint claims that USD was lying when it told the press that Johnson had asked to be released from his basketball scholarship. However, that differs from the statement Johnson made to the U-T following the announcement:

It’s just that the relationship between me and Coach Grier was never there. He’s a great coach, an awesome coach, but our personalities were never (in sync), except for when we were winning…

I love USD, I love the time I’ve been here and I’ll love the rest of my time at USD. But playing-wise, I just couldn’t see it working out.

In addition to monetary damages, the suit demands that USD:

  • Cease all “pretextual stops” and searches without probable cause
  • Collect and main all records of traffic stops
  • Appoint an independent auditor to review officers’ records quarterly
  • Set up an “early warning system” to collect citizen complaints
  • Establish an internal discipline process for officers engaged in racial profiling
  • Require all officers to undergo training on these issues

Johnson said that to his knowledge the “conduct unbecoming” suspension was for “missing a class twice,” and the most recent suspension was for a minor infraction of team rules.

Of the overall USD experience, Johnson said: “I love USD, I love the time I’ve been here and I’ll love the rest of my time at USD. But playing-wise, I just couldn’t see it working out.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. socalball permalink
    March 11, 2010 - 8:07 am 8:07 am

    I wonder who’s footing the attorney bills on this one. I can’t see this lawsuit going anywhere.

  2. March 11, 2010 - 8:14 am 8:14 am

    No? The folks at Torero Nation ( seem to think that this lawsuit will hurt USD’s recruitment of quality players, so, it follows, that they may want to settle this asap. (Coincidentally, the day before, the U-T wrote a column about how letting Johnson go was one of many poor decisions by the Toreros’ coaches.)

  3. August 1, 2012 - 11:48 pm 11:48 pm

    USD Public safety officers are private security guards and are not allowed by law to pull people over. I don’t know if the abuse happened or not but none of this would have happened if the officer hadn’t pulled him over. If this student has a good attorney he’s going to get paid big. How many shopping mall gaurds use police lights and sirens and pull people over?

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