Robert Arnold

Attorneys for Robert Arnold, a former Orange Police Department officer, have filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the city of Orange.

According to court documents, the suit is for lost income, past, present and future in addition to lost benefits and loss of ability to contribute to his retirement. In addition, they are seeking damages for mental anguish and emotional distress.

Arnold was discharged from his job at OPD following an incident in July 2010 when he shot and killed 28-year-old James Whitehead of West Orange.

Whitehead had gone to the O’Reilly Auto Parts store on 16th Street to return a part for a pickup truck he was attempting to repair. However, the clerk refused to allow the return on the part. As a result, Whitehead became angry and began cursing. An employee of the store call 9-1-1 for assistance in the matter.

Arnold who was off duty and also a customer at the store reportedly told Whitehead to calm down which caused him to direct his anger at the officer by calling him racial slurs. Arnold walked out the door with Whitehead behind him.

Whitehead was getting into the passenger side of his neighbor’s pickup truck,which he had arrived in, and the confrontation between Arnold and Whitehead continued. The situation escalated to the point where Whitehead was fatally shot by Arnold.

An investigation into the matter was conducted by the Texas Rangers. The case was turned over to the Orange County Grand Jury. They decided to “no-bill” Arnold  of any charges.

Officials with OPD convened two “shooting boards” to investigate the incident. The shooting boards did not conduct an independent investigation but instead questioned Arnold. In November 2010 the board concluded Arnold had committed 10 violations of department policy, according to court documents. As a result, Arnold’s employment was terminated.

“These alleged policy violations were mere pretext for his dismissal covering up the real reason of his dismissal, which is race,” the document reads.

“Upon information and belief, no white officer of the Orange Police Department has ever been teminated for an officer involved in a shooting after the Texas Rangers and an Orange County Grand Jury has cleared them.”

In addition, the document further states no white officer of OPD has ever been terminated for using a weapon which had not been proper qualified to department procedures, or for using a weapon he had failed to register with the department. In addition, no white officer had ever been terminated for “conduct that was prejudicial to good order.”

“It is our belief race played a roll in it,” said Cade Bernsen, of the Bernsen Law Firm.

An arbitrator following a hearing in July 2010  determined that Arnold was to be reinstated as an officer with OPD. However, the city filed an appeal and it has yet to be reversed. The case will be presented again and according to city attorney, John Cash Smith, they are “confident the case will be overturned.”

Arnold’s attorneys also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging the racial discrimination. However, according to Smith, in March the EEOC determined there was “no discrimination.”

According to Smith, the lawsuit is an appeal based on the adverse findings of the EEOC.

“This case doesn’t have any merit,” Smith said.

However, Bernsen said the case is a “righteous and valid case.”