Police officer sues for discrimination after ancestry test shows African heritage

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A Michigan police officer is suing his department, claiming his coworkers discriminated against him for his new-found African heritage.

Sgt. Cleon Brown has a cut-and-dry professional background. After the military he embarked on a 20-year career in law enforcement.

"I applied for Detroit Police Department, got hired and did a year in Detroit and then came back to Hastings and been there for 19 years," Brown explains. But where he comes from wasn't so cut and dry to him.

"My dad is dark complected and has dark curly hair. He claims it was Indian heritage," Brown says. So, Brown took a DNA test from the company Ancestry by DNA.com - which revealed he is 18 percent African.

"I was shocked but I'm very proud," he says. "I'm shocked because I thought I was Native American and it answered a whole bunch of my questions."

But he says not everyone shared his enthusiasm. He claims he's been called derogatory names, harassed and denied opportunities instantly after he told coworkers at the Hastings Police Department. The most egregious allegations are aimed at the chief.

"He called me Kunta."

That, in reference to an African slave from the novel and TV series "Roots."

"And it made me so mad," Brown says. "I remember saying to the chief, 'I cannot believe you just called me that.'"

There is also the matter of pictures - one of a Christmas tree with an African-American Santa Claus in Sgt. Brown's stocking with "18 percent" written on it.

"Not a good thing for the public to see," he says.

The Hastings police chief, along with five others, including the city, are named in a lawsuit asking for $500,000.  

FOX 2 spoke with the city attorney to see if he had any comment in response to the 18-page lawsuit. He responded with a 5-page statement of their own, basically saying Brown initiated this conversation and the joking and banter that followed.

The city alleges Brown joked about the ancestry results, "suggesting he knows why he likes chicken so much" and "the 18 percent is all in my pants."

"It wouldn't even cross my mind to say something like that," Brown says. "It's their attempt to shift blame. What else can they do at this point."

CLICK HERE to read the full city of Hastings statement.

His attorney says lawsuits like this can be fought in court for months, even years. He says it is something he is prepared for.

"I don't care if you are in a blue uniform or not," he says. "If you do something wrong I'm going to say it."