Lt. McFadden with her fist in the air

Photo by Paul Becker

Columbus Police Lieutenant Melissa McFadden – whose book “Walking The Thin Black Line” exposed how the Division retaliated against her as she sought to make change from within – has won her federal racial discrimination suit against the City of Columbus.

The jury awarded Lt. McFadden just $2. Her book was also not about getting rich, as it has not earned her any compensation either.

In 2016, Lt. McFadden assisted a Black female officer in filing an EEO complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission who claimed she was being unfairly treated by a white commanding officer.

The commander of the Internal Affairs Bureau at the time, Jennifer Knight, was overheard telling other officers the EEO complaint was “stupid,” and that she and others were going to retaliate against Lt. McFadden by “taking her out.”

McFadden was soon subjected to what she described in her book as the “CPD pile on.” A series of false allegations were made against her by fellow officers. She was a “black militant,” for example. She was relieved of her commanding officer duties and reassigned to the property room.

In 2018, Internal Affairs claimed she “created a hostile work environment” and then-Chief Jacobs recommended she be fired. Yet the Columbus Department of Public Safety ruled against the firing and Lt. McFadden remains employed by the Division to this day with nearly 30-years of service to Columbus.

“I am pleased that the jury came to the decision that they did and were able to see through all of the issues and come to the conclusion that the Division acted illegally in sending me to the property room to disassemble vests. It sends an important message that discrimination and retaliation are not acceptable,” said Lt. McFadden in a statement to the Free Press.

Lt. McFadden’s attorney John Marshall said Lt. McFadden is also seeking an order from the judge to demand the Division issue “a communication to all CDP officers that the discrimination and retaliation are regretted and CDP looks forward to many more years of Lt. McFadden’s contribution to its mission.”

The following is from a press release about “Walking The Thin Black Line”:

Growing up, McFadden dreamed of becoming a police officer – but when she landed a job with the Columbus Division of Police, she learned that policing was something very different than what she’d envisioned. As a Black woman from the coal country of West Virginia, she found herself confronting a big city racist police culture that was born in the slave patrols of Reconstruction, emboldened through the Jim Crow era, challenged in the Civil Rights era, and still gaining momentum in the Black Lives Matter era.

McFadden’s memoir “Walking The Thin Black Line” is about her journey through the thicket of systemic racism that hides in union contracts, unfair assignment practices, and discriminatory disciplinary decisions. She shares how racism thrives within police culture because the purpose of policing has never shed its original focus – a war on Black people.

McFadden never imagined the day that she would be standing in solidarity with young Black activists and their white allies, holding a sign saying, “Police Reform Now,” while shouting, “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” Her voice had been silenced for over 20 years of her career through threats of retaliation that included taking her entire pension from her. 

This historic book documents a perspective not widely known by the politicians, activists, faith leaders and citizens searching for answers to the mistreatment of Black people by our police. The Black officer is often categorized as a turncoat, while at the same time lauded as the hope to solve the problem. Many minority officers remain silent. Many leave the profession. A few who have stayed are beginning to speak out and fight back. McFadden is still in it and inviting you to join her.