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Officer takes city to court

His superiors discriminate against him and refuse to promote him, despite his experience, he alleges.

February 25, 2009|By Joseph Serna

No one will debate that Newport Beach police Sgt. Neil Harvey stands out among his peers. It’s just a matter of why that now has he and the chief sitting opposite each other in a Santa Ana courtroom.

On one hand, the police department and the city claim that while on paper Harvey’s résumé looks good, with a master’s degree, 18 years as a sergeant and several awards, it doesn’t translate to leadership in the field.

On the other, Harvey claims that in the last 11 years he has scored among the top potential officers due for a promotion, and that it’s just among his superiors he is tripped up.

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You see, Harvey’s never been promoted because many in the department think he’s gay, and discriminate against him because of that, he claims in a lawsuit filed in 2007 for unspecified damages.

In opening statements Wednesday afternoon in Santa Ana’s Central Justice Center, lawyers for both sides presented their arguments to jurors who will decide whether Harvey has suffered discrimination, and if so, how much the city will have to pay for that.

“The evidence will show there’s no right to be promoted to lieutenant or any rank in the police department,” said defense attorney Jim McDonald. “It’s a process designed to produce the most qualified candidate.”

Past reviews and recommendations from Harvey’s graders will prove that he simply isn’t suited to become a lieutenant, which carries greater responsibility, McDonald said. The defense acknowledged Harvey’s scored well in all other areas except peer reviews, and because it weighs so heavily in the promotion process, he was denied.

Yet testimony by fellow officers, which will include stories of closed-door discussion and rumors of Harvey’s sexuality, will show there’s more to the story than what you can plainly see, Harvey’s attorney, Larry Lennemann said during his opening statement.

There were times Harvey was openly called a homosexual, or when after a staff meeting someone from the back of the room shouted out Harvey should try being with women for a change, Lennemann told jurors.

Harvey said rumors of his sexuality compromised his ability to lead and jeopardized any fair, subjective review he would have by colleagues. Harvey is not gay.

Testimony will begin Friday morning.


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