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Three black former Bluffton police officers filed complaints last month with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging they were discriminated against by the Bluffton Police Department because of their race.
Thomas Loving and Gerry Brown, longtime officers with the department, resigned in October to join the Hardeeville Police Department, where they received pay raises.
Loving, who was a corporal, was the school resource officer assigned to the Bluffton Schools Complex off Buckwalter Parkway. Brown, who was a sergeant, headed up Bluffton's traffic enforcement detail.
The third officer, Alexis Webber, who was a detective, resigned soon after, said Bluffton Chief David McAllister.
All three alleged they were not promoted as quickly as white officers.
McAllister denied the officers' claims Thursday.
"They are baseless. ... We look forward to our day in court to disprove these allegations."
McAllister said the three were not pressured to resign, and none of them filed formal complaints with the police department alleging discrimination while they were employed in Bluffton.
The chief said the department requires those seeking promotions to pass standard national exams that are administered by an outside firm. Officers are ranked and promoted according to the results, he said.
The department is working toward national accreditation, and its standards are getting higher, said McAllister, who was hired just more than two years ago to run the department.
"Two years ago, the department was rife with corruption and malfeasance at all levels. ... We challenge officers. We're increasing the workload for them. Officers that welcome (the accreditation) will succeed and flourish under what is a professional police model. But then, there are those who will not," he said.
Donald Gist, the lawyer for the three former Bluffton officers, did not return several calls seeking comment.
Racial minorities account for 28 percent of the 35-member Bluffton department; 20 percent of the department is black, McAllister said. Protected-class officers -- racial minorities and women -- account for 51 percent of the force, he said.
The department also has an outstanding EEOC complaint filed by a female patrol officer who said she was forced to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act after she told officers she was pregnant.
Leah Frank, 23, who began her leave last month, said her doctor told department officials she could perform only a light-duty. She said her superiors told her they would not hold her position open for her.
McAllister said there are not any full-time light-duty positions available because Bluffton is a small department. After Frank's 12-week leave is over, officials will ask her if she can return to full duty, he said. The baby is due in January.
The department does not have a policy for pregnant officers.