Only Black Cop in Florida K-9 Unit Says Colleagues Used the N-Word All the Time

The officer also claims that a unit supervisor yelled out “Heil Hitler” and did a Nazi salute while in the same room as him.
Former cop and the Gainesville K-9 unit’s only Black officer Edward Ratliff is suing his former employer.
Former cop and the Gainesville K-9 unit’s only Black officer Edward Ratliff is suing his former employer. (Getty)

After a police dog brutally bit a Black man’s face in July, causing the man to lose an eye, local activists in Gainesville, Florida, have been on high alert.

“Since the day we all learned about the vicious mauling of Terrell Bradley, we’ve been saying that the only real reason this incident happened is because Terrell committed the horrific crime of driving while Black,” Gainesville community activist Danielle Chanzes told VICE News. “We’re confident that had Terrell been a white man, he never would have lost his eye.”

The police department has denied that the attack on Bradley was the result of malicious intent, but a little-reported lawsuit about alleged racism on the force may indicate otherwise. 

A lawsuit filed by a former Gainesville police officer last December shines a light on the unaddressed internal issues that led to Bradley’s injuries. Former cop and the Gainesville K-9 unit’s only Black officer Edward Ratliff is suing his former employer of 13 years and the city for $30,000 in monetary damages over wages he missed out on solely on the department's racist retaliation. The lawsuit alleges that between 2015 and April 2021, the department subjected him to bogus internal investigations that negatively impacted his income, reprimanded him, and threatened his employment based on unsubstantiated accusations. The lawsuit also claims that Ratliff’s colleagues regularly used the N-word around him.

The issues began in 2015, according to the lawsuit, when he was removed from the department’s K-9 unit for the first time without reason. Ratliff was eventually put back on the team in April 2017, but was threatened with another removal from the squad eight months later because he left his K-9 at home to get dinner one night. 

In February 2018, Ratliff says that the more blatant racism began. The other officers in the K-9 unit began to call him “Radio,” in reference to Cuba Gooding’s Jr. titular character in the 2003 film.

“You are basically calling me a retarded Black guy,” Ratliff says he told his superior officer Cpl. Jeff Kerkau.

“Yes, we know,” Kerkau answered, according to the lawsuit. “That’s why it’s funny.”

The lawsuit also says that Kerkau and others regularly used the N-word in reference to other Black officers and Black constituents they came in contact with.

“Sounds like there’s some n*****s in the wood pile,” Kerkau allegedly said when a non-white officer was the subject of an internal investigation.

When the unit received news that one of the police dogs would have to be euthanized, unit supervisor Sgt. Charlie Owens, said the K-9 “bit a lot of n*****s.” Another time, during an office party, Ratliff says he heard a fellow officer refer to the residents on the mostly Black side of town as “those n*****s on the East side.”

When Ratliff filed a complaint over the racist language, the lawsuit alleges Kerkau told him it was not a problem because “Black people use the word all the time.” He also alleges that Owens yelled out “Heil Hitler” three times and did a Nazi salute while in the same room with him in April 2020.

“Sgt. Owens’ actions were extremely hostile to Ratliff in that they summoned chilling images of White supremacy,” the lawsuit reads.

In addition to those accusations, the lawsuit also claims officers regularly and openly talked about Ratliff’s personal life and punished him professionally after he spoke out. And after he sustained an injury during an arrest in 2019, he was falsely accused of lying about his recovery, which resulted in his inability to earn overtime pay. He was also denied a detective position in the department despite the job going to a less qualified, white officer, the lawsuit alleges.

“Ratliff was constructively discharged on April 16, 2021, when he could no longer tolerate the mental and emotional distress that he was subjected to on a regular basis, and it became clear that he would not be promoted in the future, regardless of the number of accolades he received in his career,” stated the lawsuit.

Two of the officers involved in the July 10 incident when Bradley lost his eye were suspended from duty with pay earlier this month, according to Gainesville Chief Lonnie Scott. But Chanzes says that the racism experienced by Black Gainesville residents goes beyond this one-time incident. Between 2016 and 2020, at least 48 of the 59 people bitten by a Gainesville K-9 were Black, according to summaries of K-9 use obtained via a public records request. That means Black people have accounted for at least 81 percent of all people bitten by police dogs in Gainesville in the last six years.

The disparity within the Florida department reflects nationwide trend. The vast majority of people bitten by K-9s in the U.S. are Black, according to the Marshall Project.

“This lawsuit just validates everything we’ve been saying all along based on our community knowledge,” Chanzes told VICE News. ”The Gainesville Police Department, and more specifically the K-9 unit, is racist. We’re confident that had Terrell been a white man, he never would have lost his eye.”

Ratliff’s attorney, Alfred Truesdell, did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment. The Gainesville Police Department declined to provide a statement about the accusations, adding that it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

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