By Tommy Rowan Philly.com
PHILADELPHIA — Two Jewish police officers have filed a federal lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department claiming a pattern of anti-Semitism by colleagues in their Fairmount-based district, including scratching a Nazi “SS” symbol into a locker and drawing a Star of David and the phrase “Hebrew Hammer” onto a door of a patrol car.
In the suit, Officer Stacey Gonzalez, a 21-year department veteran, and Officer Pavel Reznik, a Russian immigrant with 12 years on the force, alleged that “racist” comments and anti-Semitic acts by a female supervisor, Cpl. Karen Church, and more than 10 officers in the Ninth District headquarters at 401 N. 21st St., created an unsafe working environment and violated their civil rights.
Mostly, they said, co-workers would address the Jewish officers using ethnic slurs, and they endured daily off-color jokes at their expense.
Their attorney, Brian Mildenberg of Center City, who filed the suit Monday night in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, included in the lawsuit photos allegedly showing anti-Semitic acts. “It’s bad,” Mildenberg said in an interview. The officers also filed a complaint with the department’s Internal Affairs unit in August, Mildenberg said.
Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, police spokesperson, said Tuesday that the department does not comment on pending lawsuits. Mike Dunn, a spokesperson for Mayor Kenney, said the suit was being reviewed and he could not comment.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order Police Lodge 5, the city’s police union, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Gonzalez, of West Philadelphia, claims in the lawsuit that Church sanctioned an anti-Semitic environment and allegedly told her, “Why doesn’t the United States just take a missile and blow up Israel?” After Gonzalez expressed her offense at that, Church allegedly retaliated by making her stay and clean up after shifts, and by speaking to her in a demeaning way.
She claims Church would refuse to make accommodations to aid Gonzalez with work, and punished her for using break time to obtain religious items on the eve of Yom Kippur.
When assigned to get barbecue chicken for a 2018 Memorial Day potluck, one sergeant allegedly told Gonzalez, “Don’t bring no m—–f—— kosher s—.”
For Reznik, of Bensalem, the lawsuit says the anti-Semitic behavior started in the police academy. In front of other recruits, officers allegedly told him, “I must break you,” using a fake Russian accent.
He allegedly was told that he would get “all the benefits immigrants get, without doing any work.” And when he would get mail in the academy, recruits would say, “Immigration was looking to deport him.”
And, when disciplined, they allegedly would say, “Oh, we’re just getting Jewed out.”
A sergeant allegedly would say, “There are far and few Russians in a police department, so you watch what you do, you need your benefits.”
An officer allegedly told him at a department cookout: “I ain’t eating your nasty Russian food.”
And his sergeant allegedly said: “I must break you, we must destroy your country.”
On a rear door of his patrol car, he found etched in dirt a Star of David and the words “Hebrew Hammer.”
The lawsuit also alleges the locker next to Reznik’s in the district headquarters was defaced with the Nazi SS symbol and the German word “Totenkopf” (meaning “death’s head”), an apparent reference to a Nazi battalion that guarded the death camps during World War II. Officers also allegedly had anti-Semitic conversations.
One officer allegedly said, “Hey look, there is some matzoh on the table!”
Another officer responded, “Don’t be a racist.”
“It’s not racism,” a third officer responded,” it’s anti-Semitism.”
Reznik was routinely denied time off for Jewish holidays, the lawsuit says.
The day after a victim of a stolen car allegedly complained about seeing “a Jewish flag” on Reznik’s phone, a captain stripped him of his patrol car and asked him to walk a beat, the lawsuit says.
It is not the first time the Police Department has been accused of anti-Semitism. In 1995, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit against the department filed the previous year by retired officer Mark Goldberg. The 11-year veteran had sued his onetime friend, Police Inspector Joseph O’Connor, as well as the city, and three other supervisors, alleging ethnic intimidation and religious discrimination.
Howard Lebofsky, president of Shomrim of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, an organization of Jewish police officers, prison guards, and firefighters, said he couldn’t cite any other recent examples. Shomrim is Hebrew for guardians.
Lebofsky said he joined the Police Department in 1971, rose to detective in 1975, and stayed on the force until 1984. During those 13 years, he said, he never personally encountered anti-Semitism from a fellow officer.
“I’m sure it has occurred in the past,” he said. “I just didn’t run into anything.”
In 1980, when Morton Solomon became the city’s first — and so far its only — Jewish police commissioner, there were more than 100 Jewish police officers on a force of 8,000. By the mid-1990s, fewer than 100 Jewish officers were counted on a force of 6,500. Today, according to Lebofsky, the force is about the same size but has only about 25 Jewish officers.
“Generally speaking, I think it’s fair to say that Jews are not overrepresented in law enforcement, let’s put it that way,” Lebofsky said.