ATLANTIC CITY - A city police detective's punishment for failing a random drug test has turned to reward.
Ronald Basile, fired from the Police Department in 2005 after testing positive for cocaine, will receive $80,000 after city attorneys agreed to settle his lawsuit that claimed he was fired because of reverse racism, officials confirmed Monday.
Six months shy of his 25th anniversary with the Police Department, Basile was called in for a random drug test Nov. 9, 2004. Twenty days later, the test came back positive for cocaine, and Basile was quickly suspended. But within the 20 days it took for the test results to return, Basile had applied for, and was awarded, his full pension by the state's Division of Pensions and Benefits.
Intent on not allowing Basile to retire unchallenged, former Mayor Lorenzo Langford and former Police Chief Arthur Snellbaker, frequent rivals, agreed to have Basile fired in January 2005.
But Attorney General's guidelines allow a person to retire in lieu of a disciplinary hearing and Basile began receiving a monthly $2,810.17 pension in July 2005.
That still left $47,745 in accumulated leave time on the table for Basile, who was described at the time by his attorney as cash-strapped. Basile filed a lawsuit against the city in 2006, claiming he was fired because he was white. The leave time is included in the settlement. Mayor Scott Evans confirmed the total settlement figure, but could not offer further specifics.
City Council approved the settlement in a closed session Feb. 13, but the city's law department had refused to release the figures because the agreement was not yet official.
Basile couldn't be reached for comment, and his attorney, Timothy J. McIlwain, did not return phone calls Monday.
Officials in the solicitor's office said the decision to settle weighed heavily on the testimony of Robert Flipping, the city's director of public safety during former Mayor Lorenzo Langford's administration.
Flipping accused his former boss of denying Basile the option of retiring with pension because he was white, claiming he said Basile was "not the right color," according to court documents. Langford is black.
Flipping testified in April 2006 that Langford initially agreed to allow Basile to retire with pay simply by writing a letter of resignation, before asking whether Basile was "a black guy or a white guy."
"I categorically deny that," Langford said in a phone interview Monday. "That is a bare-faced lie."
Langford said Flipping asked him to consider allowing Basile to retire instead of being fired after Snellbaker insisted he be terminated. The former mayor questioned whether there was a legal precedent to allow Basile's retirement and later found there was not.
But Langford said he continued to weigh the situation before asking the opinion of his driver, a white police officer.
"I asked him what he thought about it," recalled Langford, who would not identify the driver. "He said it would be a smack in the face to all honest police officers. With that, the next day I went in and told Flip I wasn't going to fight with Snellbaker over this."
The decision was one of few that Langford and Snellbaker agreed upon during their tenure with the city. Contrarily, Flipping was seen as an ally of Langford.
"I was shocked. I was absolutely shocked," Langford said of learning of Flipping's claims.
Flipping also testified that the city had been "lobbying aggressively" to prevent black employees facing similar situations from losing their jobs. He listed Kelly Oatman, Bardou Ali, John Sparkman and Tony Ward as examples of police officers who tested positive for drug use but were not fired.
However, according to various police sources and archived reports, only Tony Ward was still employed at the department when Langford was mayor.
Flipping could not be reached for comment Monday.
Langford, who plans to run in this year's special election for mayor, questioned the timing of the settlement and the release of the information, claiming it was politically motivated.
"The timing is very suspicious and dubious," he said. "Wherever it came from, it was probably politically timed."
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