In Seattle, the descriptions of overt racism inside the campus police department stand out in a city that proudly touts its efforts to combat racism, and where Black Lives Matter signs can be seen in yards and windows all over town. Yet only 7 percent of Seattle residents are Black, one of the smallest concentrations among large U.S. cities. On the University of Washington’s campus in Seattle, the numbers are even smaller, with Black students comprising about 3 percent of the student body.
With nearly 50,000 students enrolled at the Seattle campus, the university’s police officers investigate on-campus crimes, patrol areas around residence halls and help manage security for public events. The department, which employs 22 officers and 11 supervisors and commanders, has touted its own diversity efforts, saying “different viewpoints, experiences and backgrounds are central to meeting the unique needs of the community we serve.” Amid last year’s racial-justice protests across the country, some of them on the university campus, the department boasted about how it trains its officers to beware of implicit bias.
University officials said on Tuesday that they were “stunned” by the allegations outlined in the legal claims, and said administrators had not previously been made aware of them. “Any one of the incidents described here would prompt an immediate investigation and appropriate disciplinary action based on the investigation’s findings,” Victor Balta, a university spokesman, said in a statement.
Mr. Ellis, who joined the campus police force in 2007, said that early in his life, he had not considered a career in policing. That changed during his junior year in high school in Sacramento, Calif., he said, when he got pulled over after football practice and a police officer pointed a shotgun at his head. The officer was searching for somebody else.
Mr. Ellis said he told one of his coaches, who also worked as a county sheriff’s deputy, what had happened.
“He said that to change law enforcement, sometimes you have to get involved,” Mr. Ellis said. “We don’t have very many Black police officers. That was a big part of me thinking I need to be in law enforcement to change the environment of law enforcement.”
He began a career in 1999, working as a correctional officer in Arizona and later as a law-enforcement officer for the Washington State Liquor Control Board. When he joined the University of Washington Police Department 14 years ago, he said, he noticed problems from the beginning. In 2008, several current and former employees filed a civil rights lawsuit against the university detailing complaints of discrimination and harassment against Black, Jewish and female officers. Mr. Ellis was not part of that lawsuit, and said he had not been not aware that it was in the works. He was new, sticking to himself, trying to fit in and avoid potential conflict.