Former cop sues Chamblee, says he was fired because he’s white

08/31/2020 - Chamblee, Georgia -  The exterior of the Chamblee Police Department, located at 3518 Broad Street, in Chamblee, Monday, August 31, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
08/31/2020 - Chamblee, Georgia - The exterior of the Chamblee Police Department, located at 3518 Broad Street, in Chamblee, Monday, August 31, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

A former police officer filed a discrimination lawsuit against Chamblee, claiming he was fired — not because he violated the city’s bodycam policy, but because of his race.

Johnathan A. Azar, a white man, filed the legal complaint last Friday in DeKalb County Superior Court. Azar claims he was fired by Chamblee police Chief Kerry Thomas, who is Black, over a procedural violation, while other Black officers have received more lenient discipline for similar or more egregious violations.

The 19-page complaint said the city “purposefully and disparately disciplined and terminated (Azar’s) employment on the basis of race in keeping with a city policy, practice or custom that treats Black employees more favorably than white employees.”

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Chamblee declined to comment about pending litigation, and Azar’s attorney, Jeanne Bynum Hipes, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Azar, an Army and Air Force veteran, began his law enforcement career in 2000. He worked for several metro Atlanta agencies, including Atlanta police, the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office, Roswell police and Union City police.

According to Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) records, Azar resigned in lieu of termination from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, where he had worked as a jailer for about six months, in 2005. No further information on the incident was provided, and the sheriff’s office told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution more detail on the resignation would be available next week.

Afterward, Azar worked for East Point police for about seven years and Kennesaw State University police for about a year and half before being hired by Chamblee police in 2017, POST records show.

In April 2019, Azar responded to a traffic incident involving a woman and an undercover Sandy Springs police narcotics officer, according to Azar’s lawsuit. Azar said it’s department policy to turn off body cameras when interacting with undercover officers.

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He cited the woman for a traffic citation, and she filed a complaint with the city about three months later, claiming Azar was rude to her, according to Azar’s lawsuit. Chamblee police investigators determined Azar turned his body camera off intermittently and made inconsistent statements during internal interviews, leading to his termination on Aug. 3, 2019.

The complaint said “several Black similarly situated police officers have engaged in similar or more serious violations of applicable policies and procedures and were not terminated or were otherwise treated more favorably than (Azar).”

The lawsuit names three Black police officers who were not fired for violating body camera policy, instead receiving punishments varying from a written warning to an 80-hour suspension. Azar filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the EEOC closed the complaint without making a determination.

He’s requesting a jury trial and to be reinstated as a police officer in addition to compensatory damages.

— AJC data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this article.