Activist Says Criticism of Rail Plan Cost His Job
At a recent state Senate hearing, Perry Crouch wanted some answers to his
questions about the $2-billion Alameda Corridor--the proposed rail expressway
designed to speed cargo to and from the countys ports.
Los Angeles Times
September 28, 2000
At a recent state Senate hearing, Perry Crouch wanted
some answers to his questions about the $2-billion Alameda Corridor--the
proposed rail expressway designed to speed cargo to and from the countys
Would the project generate enough jobs to help the
areas unemployed, Crouch asked members of the Senate Transportation
Were there conflicts of interest involving prominent
lawyers and companies doing business with the Alameda Corridor Transportation
It may have been a costly line of questioning for the
veteran community activist from Los Angeles, who has been honored by U.S. Sen.
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the Los Angeles City Council.
Two weeks later, he was suspended from his
$42,000-a-year job at Shields for Families, a social service agency where he
had worked for six years. Two months later, he was fired.
Crouch, 48, still jobless and with six children to
feed, is now suing Shields for Families in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging
wrongful termination and denial of his constitutional right of free speech. He
wants reinstatement, back wages and punitive damages.
The lawsuit claims that his former employer was
interested in obtaining a lucrative job-training grant from the government
agency responsible for building the 20-mile rail link.
To bolster its chances, the nonprofit organization
allegedly fired Crouch to placate the corridors general manager, Gill V.
Hicks, who loudly berated Crouch at the Senate hearing and threatened to sue
him for slander.
Shields for Families wanted to strike a deal
with the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority, Crouch said. In
order to make it happen, they had to silence me.
Shields, the winner of a 1995 C. Everett Koop Award
for effective community service, denies any wrongdoing. Executive Director
Kathryn Icenhower says Crouch was suspended for repeatedly speaking at public
gatherings without permission and eventually fired for threatening other
members of the staff.
She also says her agency has never received a penny
from the corridor authority.
None of this has anything to do with the Alameda
Corridor, she said. He is hurting us professionally and personally.
There is no reason to damage the community and the 700 families that use our
Hicks declined to comment on the specifics of the
lawsuit. It is unfortunate he lost his job. But apparently he lost it for
reasons that do not relate to the corridor project, Hicks said.
Crouchs problems began April 16, when he
testified for 20 minutes at a Senate hearing held in South Gate City Hall.
State Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco), the chairman of the Transportation
Committee, was gathering information about the Alameda Corridor project.
Crouch, a member of the Alameda Corridor Jobs
Coalition, asked about potential conflicts of interest involving Manatt, Phelps
& Phillips, a powerful and politically connected law firm based in Los
At the time, attorneys in the same Manatt unit were
representing the Alameda Corridor authority and Bechtel Infrastructure Corp.,
which was interested in bidding on the most expensive part of the project.
Authority officials, the Manatt firm and Bechtel deny that any conflict
Crouch made a similar query about Daniel, Mann,
Johnson and Mendenhall, an engineering firm that serves as project manager. Two
of its sister companies have contracts with the corridor authority. The firms
also deny any conflict of interest.
Finally, Crouch questioned the corridor agencys
willingness to honor a promise to hire a certain percentage of unemployed
people from cities along the projects route.
Witnesses said that during his talk, Crouch made
repeated references to the James gang, an infamous band of 19th century
Hicks was not named as a defendant in Crouchs
suit, but the document alleges that the corridor executive stormed out of the
hearing room that night and later berated Crouch for almost 10 minutes.
How dare you say the things you are saying in
there! They are all lies! the lawsuit quotes Hicks as saying. His
reaction was so loud, witnesses said, that he drew a crowd.
Although government officials generally cannot sue for
statements made at public hearings, Hicks threatened to file a slander case
Days after the hearing, Crouchs lawsuit alleges,
Shields director Icenhower talked to Hicks on the telephone. Crouch says she
inquired about a $1-million grant to provide job training for women.
During their conversation, Hicks purportedly
complained about Crouchs testimony, something that Icenhower conveyed to
Crouch shortly afterward, the suit says.
You are in the minor leagues and Gill Hicks is a
major league player, Icenhower is quoted in the suit as saying. He
said that you slandered his agency and he is going to sue our agency and wipe
us out. . . . Perry, do you understand that he is going to wipe us out?
On April 30, Shields suspended Crouch for a week
without pay. His notice stated that he had been warned in the past about making
public statements without permission. The Senate hearing was one of two
At the end of June, Shields fired Crouch after 6 1/2
years with the agency, during which he was promoted several times.
Threatening staff was the only reason cited in the termination
Crouch says his supervisors knew that he regularly
spoke at public meetings as part of his job. He denies that he threatened
anyone and says the accusation was based on third-hand information that was
Perry has a book full of awards. He has done
great work for Shields. That is why all of this is so surprising, said
David G. Spivak, his attorney.
Even after Shields suspended Crouch, Icenhower praised
him in a newspaper article May 19. He is very energetic and he works
hard, she told the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a publication that covers
the legal community.
Now the Shields executive contends that Crouch is a
liar: that he requested the telephone call to Hicks, which Crouch denies.
Considering his background, Crouch cannot be trusted, Icenhower said.
Crouch admits that he is no angel. He says he is a
former gang member and ex-cocaine addict. Before he went to work for Shields,
court records show, he was convicted of assault, possession of marijuana for
sale, petty theft and domestic violence--all misdemeanors.
Yes, I have been in trouble, Crouch said.
But that is why I am able to effectively deal with those who have trials
and tribulations. That is why agencies like Shields hire people from the
street. Now they are just trying to turn my past against me.
Most serious, however, is the belief that
(Customs) inspectors who are hired locally, particularly along the Southwest
border and assigned to the local ports of entry, could be at greater risk of
being compromised by family members and friends who may exploit their
relationships to facilitate criminal activities. Although they could not offer
any solid evidence, Customs officials express a real apprehension over the
possibility that individuals are attempting to infiltrate Customs by seeking
jobs as inspectors for the sole purpose of engaging in corrupt and criminal
The members of the House Appropriations Committee
blasted that passage, stating for the record that the committee takes
strong exception to any implication that individuals of Hispanic background are
particularly susceptible to corruption and expects the Customs Service to
address unsubstantiated bias by senior Customs officials ....
Customs Murphy stresses that the report in
question was drafted by Treasury, not Customs. The Customs Service, which is
charged with protecting the nations border integrity, is an agency under
the jurisdictional umbrella of the U.S. Treasury Department.
Although Murphy could not provide any specific details
on how Customs has dealt with the request by the Appropriations Committee to
address unsubstantiated bias, he did say Customs has formed some
high-level committees to address recruitment and retention, particularly
Murphy also added, I know there were briefings
provided for members (of Congress) who were interested in this issue with
regard to what the facts are and what we are doing.
Apparently, though, those briefings failed to satisfy
the concerns of all members of the Appropriations Committee. This past summer,
the House committee again revisited the issue, expressing continued concern
with Customs efforts to address the implication that Hispanic Customs
employees were somehow more prone to corruption.
In a July 2000 report to the entire House, the
Appropriations Committee stated the following:
Customs offered but failed to provide the
committee evidence supporting these views, and statistics provided by Customs
did not support the allegation described in the (Treasury) report. In addition,
written responses from ATF, DEA, FBI and the Secret Service indicated that
these agencies did not agree with the concern that such local hiring (along the
Southwest border) posed a greater risk of individuals being compromised.
Although Treasury and Customs now agree that the
passage from the report did not reflect accurately their beliefs or practices,
the committee is concerned that Treasury has been slow in taking steps to
communicate this to senior managers and others involved with Customs integrity
issues. The committee continues to take strong exception to any implication
that individuals of Hispanic background are particularly susceptible to
corruption and directs Treasury and Customs to contest any such unsubstantiated
bias by senior Customs officials....
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