Two Jewish police officers have filed a federal lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department, claiming a pattern of anti-Semitism by colleagues in their Franklintown-based district, including scratching a Nazi "SS" symbol into a locker and drawing a Star of David and the phrase "Hebrew Hammer" onto a door of a patrol car.
In the suit, Officers Stacey Gonzalez, a 21-year department veteran, and Pavel Reznik, a Russian immigrant with 12 years on the force, allege that racist comments and anti-Semitic acts by a supervisor, Cpl. Karen Church, and more than 10 officers in the Ninth District at 401 N. 21st St., created an unsafe working environment and violated their civil rights.
Mostly, the lawsuit says, co-workers would address the Jewish officers using ethnic slurs, and the officers endured daily off-color jokes at their expense.
Their attorney, Brian Mildenberg of Center City, who filed the suit Monday night in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, included in the lawsuit photos allegedly showing anti-Semitic acts. "It's bad," Mildenberg said. The officers also filed a complaint with the department's Internal Affairs unit in August, Mildenberg said.
Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, police spokesperson, said on Tuesday that the department does not comment on pending lawsuits. Mike Dunn, a spokesperson for Mayor Kenney, said that the suit was being reviewed and that he could not comment.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order Police Lodge 5, the city's police union, said he had not known of the allegations contained in the suit. "This is the first I'm being made aware of this," he said. "To my knowledge they've never contacted [the union] or requested any assistance, which would be their first line of defense … but they took the path that they did, and it's under litigation and I guess they'll figure it out on that level."
Gonzalez, of West Philadelphia, claims in the lawsuit that Church sanctioned an anti-Semitic environment and allegedly told her, "Why doesn't the United States just take a missile and blow up Israel?" After Gonzalez expressed her offense at that, Church allegedly retaliated by making her stay and clean up after shifts, and by speaking to her in a demeaning way.
She claims Church would refuse to make accommodations to aid Gonzalez with work, and punished her for using break time to obtain religious items on the eve of Yom Kippur.
When assigning Gonzalez to get barbecued chicken for a 2018 Memorial Day potluck, one sergeant allegedly told her, in a remark laced with obscenities, not to bring kosher food.
For Reznik, of Bensalem, the lawsuit says, the anti-Semitic behavior started in the police academy. In front of other recruits, officers allegedly told him, "I must break you," using a fake Russian accent.
He allegedly was told that he would get "all the benefits immigrants get without doing any work." When he would get mail in the academy, the suit says, recruits would say, "Immigration was looking to deport him." And when being disciplined, they allegedly would say, "Oh, we're just getting Jewed out."
A sergeant allegedly would say, "There are far and few Russians in a police department, so you watch what you do, you need your benefits."
An officer allegedly told him at a department cookout: "I ain't eating your nasty Russian food."
And his sergeant allegedly said: "I must break you, we must destroy your country."
On a rear door of his patrol car, he found etched in dirt a Star of David and the words "Hebrew Hammer."
The lawsuit also alleges the locker next to Reznik's in the district headquarters was defaced with the SS symbol and the German word "Totenkopf" (meaning "death's head"), an apparent reference to a Nazi battalion that guarded death camps during World War II. Officers also allegedly had anti-Semitic conversations.
One officer allegedly said, "Hey look, there is some matzoh on the table!" Another officer responded, "Don't be a racist." "It's not racism," a third officer responded," it's anti-Semitism."
Reznik was routinely denied time off for Jewish holidays, the lawsuit says.
The day after a victim of a stolen car allegedly complained about seeing "a Jewish flag" on Reznik's phone, a captain stripped him of his patrol car and asked him to walk a beat, the lawsuit says.
In 1995, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit against the department filed the previous year by retired officer Mark Goldberg alleging anti-Semitism. The 11-year veteran had sued his onetime friend, Police Inspector Joseph O'Connor, as well as the city and three other supervisors, alleging ethnic intimidation and religious discrimination.
Howard Lebofsky, president of Shomrim of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, an organization of Jewish police officers, prison guards, and firefighters, said he couldn't cite any other recent examples. Shomrim is Hebrew for "guardians."
Lebofsky said he joined the Police Department in 1971, rose to detective in 1975, and stayed on the force until 1984. During those 13 years, he said, he never personally encountered anti-Semitism from a fellow officer.
"I'm sure it has occurred in the past," he said. "I just didn't run into anything."
In 1980, when Morton Solomon became the city's first — and so far its only — Jewish police commissioner, there were more than 100 Jewish police officers on a force of 8,000. By the mid-1990s, fewer than 100 Jewish officers were counted on a force of 6,500. Today, according to Lebofsky, the force is about the same size but has about 25 Jewish officers.