The only Latino officer in a police department in Ohio has filed a discrimination civil rights complaint alleging he was "constantly harassed" by the department's chief at the time over his ethnicity and religion.
In a virtual news conference Tuesday, Officer Audali "A.J." Torres of the Sheffield Lake Police Department spoke out about the "racist and religion-based abuse" he endured while working under then-Chief Anthony Campo after joining the department part-time in 2013.
Campo left the department last summer after being placed on administrative leave following a “racial harassment“ incident against a Black officer.
On June 2021, surveillance footage from the police station captured Campo printing and placing a note reading “Ku Klux Klan” on top of Officer Keith Pool’s yellow raincoat. Pool was the only Black officer in the department at the time.
Torres, a self-described "devout Roman Catholic," had taken the job to help pay for his annual church mission trips to El Salvador, according to the complaint filed on Feb. 8. Based on his religious affiliation, Torres had reached an “understanding with the city” to have Sundays off to attend church.
But this made Campo "angry," Torres said in the complaint, describing that the chief threatened to reduce his hours and take away his benefits, and often mocked him over his religious practices.
Campo would also photoshop images of Torres and hang them on the department's main bulletin to mock him, according to the complaint. One image showed Torres' face in a jar of salsa. Another image shows Torres with two children on one of his church mission trips to El Salvador and photoshopped speech bubbles implying Torres was a pedophile.
During the news conference, Torres said these “attacks hurt me."
"I'm going public so people understand this racist conduct is unacceptable," he added.
Efforts to reach Campo for comment this week via email and phone were unsuccessful.
Pool also filed a discrimination civil rights complaint against Sheffield Lake after the June 2021 incident.
At the time, Sheffield Lake Mayor Dennis Bring condemned Campo's actions, telling NBC affiliate WKYC of Cleveland, "There’s no one word to explain how disgusting this is.”
Despite Bring's remarks against Campo, city officials tried "to minimize his revolting racial and religious discrimination" in responding to both complaints, said Kevin Conway, a lawyer representing both Torres and Pool.
According to Conway, the city's response to Torres’ complaint "repeats verbatim much of its response" to Pool’s complaint filed last November.
The responses described Campo’s conduct as “perhaps inappropriate and in poor taste” but “not so offensive to the reasonable person that it would materially affect the terms and consequences of employment,” Conway's firm said in a news release Tuesday. In both cases, the city denied that Campo’s conduct was “severe or pervasive,” characterizing it as merely “banter.”
Bring and the city of Sheffield did not respond to requests for comment.
“The city’s position reveals how Mr. Campo got away with racial harassment for so long," said Ashlie Case Sletvold, another lawyer for Pool and Torres. Campo was Sheffield Lake’s police chief for eight years.
"City officials were never willing to hold him accountable," Case Sletvold said.
The Ohio Civil Rights Commission now has one year to make a determination in both cases. This could potentially result in a hearing by the civil rights branch of the Ohio Attorney General's Office, a commission spokesperson said.
The commission's spokesperson declined to comment directly on the complaints filed by Pool and Torres.
Pool, who joined the news conference Tuesday to support Torres, said he wants "accountability" and for the Sheffield Lake Police Department to implement diversity and inclusion equity training for the first time.
"Nobody, no matter who you are, deserves to be subjected to this treatment," Pool said.