Cheryl Dorsey joined the LAPD at the age of 22, after 20 years with the department she’s crossing the blue line and speaking out about the department’s racism.
*Cheryl Dorsey, 54, retired from the Los Angeles Police Department on August 26, 2000, exactly one day after her 20th anniversary with the department.
When asked about Christopher Dorner, she says, “I am not surprised that it happened. I am surprised it took this long and I’m convinced that it will happen again if the department doesn’t start to treat their employees better.”
The mother of four says that when she was going through her own Board of Rights hearing that involved the same charge as Dorner— giving false and misleading statements to an Internal Affairs investigator — when she seriously contemplated just jumping off the third floor of the Bradbury Building.
Retired LAPD Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey
Married to another LAPD officer at the time, Dorsey says she was a victim of domestic violence and after details of incidents at her home found their way into the department, she was charged with six counts of unnecessarily causing the response of an outside agency for the six calls she made to the sheriff’s department from her home in Altadena. The charge of giving false and misleading statements was tacked on when questioned by Internal Affairs.
“I was a sergeant and my husband was a police officer and so I was held to a higher standard. I was asked if I’d been in an altercation and I said no because I had been pushed and I didn’t push back and to me that was not an altercation. But because of the seriousness of the charge and with my rank as a sergeant, I could be terminated. But rather than have it adjudicated at the division level, they sent me to the BOR for them to make a determination about my penalty.”
She says that chairman over the BOR at the time was Deputy Chief Martin Pomeroy, a Mormon who was known throughout the department as being racist towards Blacks.
“I remember Pomeroy making comments about me being a Sergeant and my husband being a police officer. At some point he wanted to know how much could I bench because I was competing in the police Olympics and I had been bodybuilding. And I’m thinking, how is that relevant? But you have no say. I mean he’s saying this and I’m fuming. I remember thinking this is wrong, I’m a woman he’s a man—I can’t whip him. I’m not a sergeant over a police officer at home, I’m a woman dealing with a man who’s drunk and out of control.”
Dorsey says that Pomeroy didn’t believe that she’d been the victim of domestic violence and told her as much. In the end she was suspended for five days instead of being terminated.
Cheryl says that she doesn’t agree with what Dorner did but believes the claims of racism in the department made by Dorner in his manifesto and agrees with other African-American ex-LAPD officers who have come forward in the recent days to speak out. She says that she felt compelled to tell her story after reading comments on the Internet that her one-time colleagues brave enough to come forward were nothing more than “bitter former employees.”
“I believe the charges made in the manifesto,” she says. “I retired from the department in good-standing as a sergeant with my pension and I co-sign everything my colleagues have said about the racism because I experienced it as well. I don’t have a beef with the department because it did afford me the opportunity to eat and take care of my children, but that doesn’t mean LAPD doesn’t have its problems internally and race is a big issue.”
Cheryl Dorsey in 1981 at her LAPD Academy graduation with then police chief Darryl Gates
A young single mother of two working for the Department of Justice in the late 70s as a stenographer, Dorsey was 22 and recalls her first introduction to law enforcement.
“They [DOJ] actually used me to set up a sting,” she says. “Because back in the 80s you know, PCP was a big deal. They were trying to lure this guy who was involved in a PCP lab and that’s kind of what got me interested in law enforcement. I went out on the sting with them and they were successful in capturing the guy and my thought was I would join whichever department I could join, get my post and then I was going to lateral back to the DOJ as a special agent.”
Cheryl then went on to apply with several agencies—the California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and the LAPD. She says that she got through LAPD’s process first due in part to the 1979 consent decree in place as a result of Blake v. City of Los Angeles. The lawsuit, which was filed by then female Sergeant Fachon Blake, alleged that LAPDs past hiring practices discriminated against women and minorities. The consent decree required the department to proactively hire women and minorities applicants.
She says that completed LAPDs application process pretty quickly and that they offered her a hire date and she took it.
“But I was still thinking that I would go back to the DOJ and stay within the state system because I had been working with the state of California already for four years, so my thing was I was going to get my post certificate through the City and then go back to DOJ.”
She says however that changed once she started working for LAPD.
“In the beginning, I enjoyed the work and I realized there were so many places I could go within the department and so I decided that I was going to make the LAPD my career.”
Her time within the LAPD took her from Southwest division where she did her probation or what is more commonly referred to as her “rookie year.” She said she was then “wheeled out” to Central division where she was promoted to Police Officer II. It was at that time that she became aware of an opportunity in the Central Traffic Division and eventually became an Accident Investigator.
After five years investigating traffic accidents, she transferred to OSB Crash, Operations South Bureau CRASH.
Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) was a controversial special operations unit of the LAPD, established by then chief Daryl Gates to combat the rising problem of gangs in Los Angeles. The CRASH unit’s primary goal was to suppress the influx of gang-related crimes in Los Angeles, which at the time, came about primarily from the increase in the drugs trade.
Promoted to Police Officer III, she then transferred to Pacific division and in 1994, Cheryl was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and assigned to Newton division where she was one of the first Black sergeants to be an Officer in Charge over a vice, a specialized unit.
She refers to her time in the department as being “crazy.”
“I knew almost immediately after I was hired that there was racism in the LAPD. But I was determined. I was a single mother and I needed the money. When I came into the department there were very few Black women particularly on the south end. I was one of just a few. My mindset was that they were not going to run me out of here.”
Cheryl Dorsey at work in L.A.’s Pacific Division in 1996
Cheryl recalls her police academy drill instructor as being one of the white officers who treated her poorly and exhibited outright racism towards her—and there was nothing she could do about it.
When she arrived at Southwest division she remembers that she had her hair in a short afro and that her white colleagues accused her of being a Muslim and being affiliated with the Fruit of Islam, the male-only paramilitary wing of the Nation of Islam.
“They thought that I was a plant and that the Nation of Islam had put me in there to infiltrate the LAPD.”
She laughs, “Are you kidding me? If they knew anything about the Muslims, they’d know they [Fruit of Islam] probably have as much an issue with me as they do them—white man, because I am up in here with you.”
She recalls a particularly painful incident where Stanley Shot, her sergeant, said that he thought she was too skinny and that she needed to bulk up by lifting weights.
“I weighed 118 pounds at graduation but I was strong. My training officer suggested that I lift weights to gain more upper body strength and at the time all of the weights were in the men’s locker room. I remember a curtain being put up so that I could work out in there and then that same training officer—the one who encouraged me to lift weights—said to the other male cops on duty what do you think about that bitch being in the locker room? If that bitch wants to be in the locker room she needs to grow a dick.”
She says that she was the victim of what internally is referred to as “phone jacks,” where when you’re transferred to another division your colleagues call ahead to your new division to give them a “heads up.”
“So whatever you thought you were leaving behind was always there to meet you when you arrived at your new division. I remember having white partners who wouldn’t even speak to me. Being the junior officer, I didn’t drive but I did the log. The only time some of my white partners would speak to me was to tell me the beginning and end mileage so I could put it in the log. We’d just ride in silence and I remember thinking I don’t care, it works for me. I needed that job.”
On the issue of Chief Charlie Beck and the LAPD re-opening the investigation into Dorner’s firing she asks, what’s the motivation?
“They could write him off as a bad seed, sour grapes—a crazy person and truth be told, even if they look into it, I’m not that convinced that they will find something different. What’s the incentive? Dorner’s not here anymore. It’s gone all the way through their appellate process and his claim was found to have no merit. So if it didn’t have merit then, it doesn’t have any now. That is unless there’s some catalyst that really makes LAPD do something different and I don’t know that that is.”
Showing off her sergeant’s stripes in 1996.
Cheryl wishes that Dorner would have known there’s life after the LAPD.
“I firmly believe that had he lived, he would have had the opportunity to understand that there’s life after LAPD. I know because I have one. See that’s what the department doesn’t want you to know. They want you think that they’re all you have and that they can just do you any kind of way and you’ll like it because you have nowhere else to go. Understand that when you do leave—and this was my experience as well even though I left in good standing, I couldn’t get a job anywhere else. I was unable to get a job with any law enforcement agency. Based on my training and expertise, I should have been able to find a job. But because of the BOR hearing and complaints I had made through the years, they made sure that I couldn’t go anywhere else. I have other ex-LAPD friends in the same situation. But make no mistake, LAPD will try to ruin your life.”
As it relates to other officers and manifestos, Cheryl brings up Fred Nichols, who was once the LAPDs chief expert on use-of-force tactics. In 1991, Nichols, a Black man, was suddenly reassigned in an apparent retaliatory move by the department for testifying before the County Grand Jury in the Rodney King case and for later sharply warning the Christopher Commission about the department’s routine misunderstanding of excessive force. He was taken from a very prominent position within the department to what he considered a “less prestigious position.”
According to the L.A. Times, the department denied that the reassignment was retaliatory, describing the move as part of an overall redesign of the training program. The incident marked the third time that the department’s high command has been accused of punishing supervisors who spoke out against the LAPD in closed sessions before the Christopher Commission.
Nichols, in an interview with the The Times, said he’d suffered severe stress-related problems, including anxiety, insomnia and vomiting, since he was advised that he was being removed.
“I can’t work. I can’t sleep,” he said. “There’s not one minute that I don’t think about it. Sixteen years of working in specialized units, doing my tasks, and now, because I’m honest and fair, they do this to me.
“What career do I have left? It’s gone. If you make waves in this department, it becomes close to impossible to ever promote again.”
Fred Nichols checked into a hotel that following May and shot himself.
In a 1997 L.A. Daily News interview, Nichols’ widow, Debbie Nichols, an LAPD officer herself at the time, said she believes officers feel they must adhere to an unspoken code: Handle your own problems because asking for help is a sign of weakness.
“Being a police officer, you’re supposed to be tough. They figure you ought to be able to handle the stress,” she said.
Nichols said her husband did not trust LAPD counselors, so he had to seek help from a private therapist.
“A lot of people don’t trust them because they are so involved with the department,” Nichols said, adding that sometimes the department also thinks officers are lying about stress to get a pension.
Nichols said Fred never recovered from the way he was treated and choose to commit suicide.
“Something has to change in department and I guess it’s up to those of us who made it out alive to help push that change,” Cheryl concludes.
“The stress on officers isn’t the public, it’s internal and it’s the department itself.”
Chosen as one of Essence Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World, Jasmyne A. Cannick is a radio and television politics, race, and pop culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @jasmyne and on Facebook at /jasmyne.