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Lawyers call foul play as police bypass black candidate with old infractions

Would-be-officer rejected due to continuance without a finding at age 18, spotty driving history

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 4/13/2017, 6 a.m.

Lawyers filed a complaint on behalf of a black Boston resident who was passed over for hiring into the Boston Police Department. Keon Finklea scored sufficiently high on the Civil Service test and came with what the Civil Service Commission describes as “very positive recommendations” from former employers, along with strong personal references. However, in its decision not to bring him on to the force, the Boston Police Department cited Finklea’s record that contained driving misdemeanors from five years prior and a continuance without a finding charge when the applicant was 18 years old. Five applicants ranked below Finklea were hired.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, along with Birnbaum & Godkin LLP board member David S. Godkin, filed a complaint on behalf of Finklea, seeking a reversal of the decision. According to Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for the Lawyers’ Committee, the employment decision’s subjective nature is worrying.

“We are troubled by what appears to be a discriminatory way of applying their discretion in these situations,” he told the Banner.”[Finklea has] been bypassed for really trivial reasons. ... Going back half a person’s lifetime ago and trying to couple together minor incidents of driving infractions really is problematic, particularly when it ends up disqualifying highly-qualified applicants of color at time when the Boston Police Department professes to want to diversify the police force.”

The Lawyers’ Committee issued a press release that states that the move is one of many that undermine the department’s professed interest in diversity.

“The subjective nature of BPD’s employment processes, the lack of transparency and the lack of commitment to diversity are unfortunately nothing new,” states the Lawyers’ Committee press release. “Despite its claims to value diversity on the police force, the Boston Police Department continues to stand in the way of diversity by improperly ‘bypassing’ candidates of color who apply to be police officers.”

BPD representatives, however, state that rigorous standards alone drove the decision not to hire Finklea.

“The Boston Police Department always seeks to increase diversity in hiring,” accordig to a statement BPD spokesperson Mike McCarthy provided to the Banner. “There are certain hiring standards that must be met. We are held to the highest of standards by those that we serve. We would be doing a disservice to the community if we didn’t hold applicants to those same standards when considering them for the position of police officer.”

Finklea completed the civil service exam in 2013 and submitted his application in 2014.

In 2015, he appealed his bypass to the Civil Service Commission, which upheld the BPD’s decision, although one commissioner went on record as dissenting. The Lawyers’ Committee has submitted a request to the Suffolk Superior Court that it review the decision. Sellstrom said they expect the court to issue its opinion late this year.

Finklea

Finklea was a 32-year-old father of an infant and living in Hyde Park at the time of his Civil Service hearing in June 2015. He was working as a manager at T-Mobile and expected to complete a degree in project management at Wentworth Institute of Technology later that year.