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Thursday, Sept. 2, 2004 12:04 am

Waiting list

A group of 21 white police officers filed a lawsuit Tuesday attempting to block the Springfield Police Department from choosing new sergeants using a promotional list that was extended after its expiration date. In response, a group of black officers who are already plaintiffs in a race discrimination case against SPD plans to file a petition to intervene, asking SPD to promote from the revived list.

The list in question expired Oct. 5, 2003. A month later, the Civil Service Commission voted to extend the list for another year. The group of 21 claims a list that has expired cannot be revived and is therefore invalid. Courtney Cox, attorney for the black officers, says the other group is trying to prevent the promotion of Officer Ralph Harris, current president of the black officers' group known as the Black Guardians Association.

"Both the city and the commission say it's a valid list. You have to look at why this other group wants it to be invalid," Cox says. "They would have to promote Ralph, and they don't want to do that."

On the current promotional list, Ralph Harris is the third name, just behind officers Brad Zack and Lon Crook.

But Officer Bob Markovic, one of the 21 plaintiffs and president of the police union, says Harris has nothing to do with why he filed the lawsuit, and neither does Zack or Crook.

"I like to consider Brad [Zack] a friend of mine," Markovic says, adding that they went to training schools together and played on the same softball team. "But what's right is right."

Markovic says he was inspired to file the suit when he found a Missouri appellate court case that mirrored the Springfield promotional situation. In the Missouri case, a commissioner revived a list for firefighter promotions and was subsequently sued by a black firefighter claiming the revived list was invalid.

Don Craven, the attorney representing the group of 21, says the Missouri case is relevant since there is no similar Illinois case.

There is some indication that SPD meant to promote Zack, Crook, and Harris. Both Markovic and Cox say that, on Aug. 24, a lieutenant told a squad meeting several sergeants and lieutenants had submitted notices of retirement, and that these promotions were imminent. On Aug. 26, SPD issued a press release seeming to contradict that notion, saying there were no vacancies for lieutenants or sergeants.

"I have a real question about why that was," Cox says.

He plans to file his petition to intervene no later than Sept. 7.

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