Friday, February 27, 2009
Nebraska Supreme Court Upholds Firing Of Former State Trooper Robert Henderson For His Brief Klan Association; Jon Bruning Led The Witch-Hunt
On February 27th, 2009, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the firing of a Nebraska State trooper who joined a group tied to the Ku Klux Klan. Media stories from the Omaha World-Herald and KETV Channel 7 in Omaha, with extensive background available from this series of posts on Alaska Pride.
The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that Robert Henderson (pictured above left) joined an organization that is expressly opposed to Nebraska’s founding principles. "From its very inception, the State of Nebraska has been founded upon principles of equality and tolerance that the Ku Klux Klan, from its very inception, has used violence and terror to oppose," said the 4-2 opinion written by Supreme Court Judge John Gerrard.
But Judge Kenneth Stephan, in the dissenting opinion, said the court majority showed a willingness to ignore the state's violation of Henderson's First Amendment rights. "In my view, this apparent subordination of individual constitutional rights to the 'greater good' poses a far greater risk of harm to the public policy of this state than reinstating one misguided trooper and reassigning him to some mundane position well behind the front lines of law enforcement," Stephan wrote. Stephan also said the majority went beyond what the U.S. Supreme Court allows in reviewing arbitrators' rulings and improperly substituted its own findings for those of the arbitrator.
The full 35-page court decision can be reviewed HERE in PDF format. It should also be noted that Clare Pinkert, Steven C. Sheinberg, Steven M. Freeman, and Deborah R. Cohen, all of the Anti-Defamation League, filed an amicus curiae briefing for the ADL on behalf of the state, supporting Henderson's firing.
The primary witch-hunter of Henderson was quick to celebrate the occasion. "We're pleased with the court’s ruling," Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said. "A man who embraces racism and white supremacy shouldn’t be allowed to carry a gun and a badge.”
Attorney Vincent Valentino, who represented Henderson and the trooper's union, said he and his client were disappointed. He said the dissenters had the better-reasoned opinion. "I'm sure it was a difficult decision for the court to make. We just respectfully disagree," Valentino said. Henderson, who now does private security work, could seek a rehearing before the Nebraska Supreme Court or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case. Valentino said the latter strategy was more likely.
In February 2006, the Nebraska State Patrol had fired Henderson, an 18-year trooper, for joining the Knights Party, which describes itself as the oldest, largest and most active Klan organization in the United States. Henderson appealed the firing, saying he had posted four messages to an online discussion group for party members. He said he joined as a way to vent his frustrations over his wife leaving him for a Hispanic man. But an independent arbitrator had overturned the firing, saying that Henderson's First Amendment and due process rights had been violated.
Nonetheless, Attorney General Bruning took the virtually unheard-of step of appealing the arbitration ruling, and Lancaster County District Judge Jeffre Cheuvront overturned that ruling, saying that Henderson's membership violated "well-defined and dominant" state policy against discrimination. This despite the fact that Henderson's supervisors testified that Henderson had never been a disciplinary problem, except for one unsubstantiated complaint, and there had never been any complaints against him by non-whites.
But Henderson's legal troubles may not be over. On September 5th, 2006, the Lincoln (NE) Journal-Star reported that Senator Ernie Chambers, the only black in the Nebraska legislature at the time, filed a 13-page letter officially asking the Commission on Law Enforcement and Justice to task the Crime Commission to investigate Henderson and revoke his law enforcement certification. The revocation process includes an investigation, a quasi-judicial hearing before an eight-member police standards advisory council, and a final decision by the 18-member crime commission. But this investigation was indefinitely delayed pending the outcome of Henderson's appeal. If the commission was to revoke Henderson's law enforcement certification, it would apply outside of Nebraska as well. Henderson would not be able to get a job as a sworn peace officer anywhere in the United States.
These type of standards tend to be enforced primarily against white cops; cops of other races are rarely penalized for racial activity. On September 13th, 2007, Columbus, Ohio police officer Susan Purtee was pressured into resigning after it was discovered that she had cut videos deemed "racist" and "anti-Semitic". On May 5th, 2008, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland ordered the firing of two Ohio State Troopers who had cut a video showing one of them wearing a homemade Klan hood as a gag. And it's even worse in the United Kingdom; British cops are actually barred from belonging to an officially-recognized political party, the British National Party, because it is deemed "racist". Yet non-white British cops may belong to their own racial associations without penalty. This is because British cops aren't merely required to enforce the law, but are told they also have the duty to officially promote anti-racism as a preferential political philosophy.