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Muslim cop in Calif. suing city, department over ‘racism problem’

During a 2017 briefing recognizing veterans, a sergeant allegedly said, "[Officer Haidar] is an ISIS veteran”

By Jason Green
The Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A veteran San Jose police officer who is Muslim is suing the city and the department for alleged harassment, discrimination and retaliation based upon his race, national origin and religion.

Filed Monday, the complaint for damages follows an administrative claim Nabil Haidar submitted in May.

The Lebanese-American officer says he was subjected to discriminatory behavior that increased in severity over the years, but he didn’t complain out of fear of retaliation.

Haidar changed his mind following a November 2017 police briefing, when a captain was recognizing veterans in the room and a sergeant allegedly stated, “Captain, you forgot to mention Nabil. He is an ISIS veteran. He was with ISIS for two years.”

ISIS, or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, is a notorious terrorist network based in the Middle East.

Reached by email, City Attorney Rick Doyle said the city had not been served with a copy of the complaint and could not comment.

“However, based on the claim filed by Mr. Haidar with the State Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and our subsequent investigation, we have not seen a basis for liability against the City,” Doyle said.

According to the suit, a report to Internal Affairs about the briefing incident did not yield a swift response. Haidar also alleges he was similarly harassed by colleagues while responding to a burglary call in January, the same month he requested a transfer from patrol to recruitment.

“It is extremely disappointing that after nearly one year, the San Jose Police Department still has not completed an investigation and punished those who perpetrated a vicious racist attack against Officer Haidar,” said his attorney, Randall Strauss, of the Oakland-based law firm of Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli and Brewer.

“The department appears willing to brush off this systemic racism within its ranks, viewing it as mere ‘rude behavior’ or ‘locker room talk,’ ” he continued. “It is not. There is a racism problem within the San Jose Police Department that has yet to be addressed.”

Officers who worked with Haidar, and talked to this news organization on condition of anonymity to avoid legal retaliation, have asserted Haidar has long made jokes about himself and terrorism, and that he would joke about colleagues in a similar fashion.

Haidar moved to the United States in 1988 to escape a civil war in Lebanon that claimed the lives of three family members. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology in 1996 and was hired by the San Jose Police Department later that year.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Haidar began to experience direct and degrading harassment based upon his race, national origin and religion, according to the complaint. He was allegedly regularly referred to as “Taliban,” “ISIS” and “Lebanese Bomber.”

The lawsuit says Haidar also faced retaliation after complaining to Internal Affairs and filing the claim.

As a recent example, Haidar contends that Chief Eddie Garcia, in formally reprimanding him for crashing his patrol vehicle last year, “purposefully ignored” the fact the collision occurred during the authorized high-speed pursuit of an armed robber.