SEATTLE — A senior Seattle police detective who’s spent over 40 years working to keep young people out of trouble and the city’s streets safe has filed a lawsuit alleging she’s witnessed and endured decades of racism and gender bias from department brass and fellow cops.
Detective Denise “Cookie” Bouldin, who is Black, alleges she’s faced daily discrimination during her 43 years with the Seattle Police Department, including instances where her loyalty has been questioned because of her close relationships in the city’s communities of color.
Bouldin filed her lawsuit Friday, saying the city failed to “respond meaningfully” to a spring tort claim seeking $10 million in damages. She says in the lawsuit that city officials responded to her initial allegations by opening an equal employment opportunity claim but then “continued to degrade her” when she expressed reluctance to participate in the claim process.
Bouldin, 67, has been a prominent and bridge-building presence in Seattle’s diverse South Precinct, where for years she’s taught community children to play chess and build relationships. A Rainier Beach park bearing her name opened last year.
All the while, Bouldin claims she’s had to operate within a hostile work environment where she’s weathered overtly racist remarks from white supervisors and been ordered to perform menial tasks she finds “degrading, humiliating and [with] racist overtones.”
Bouldin “has been a trailblazer” within the SPD, the lawsuit says, and was only the second Black woman in the department when she was hired in 1980. She faced discrimination right away, according to the lawsuit, and claims hostility and animosity have only increased in recent years.
“Detective Bouldin received regular and continuous internal complaints about her relationship with the Black community,” says the lawsuit, which mostly mirrors allegations from the March tort claim filed by lawyers including James Bible, a former chair of the Seattle King County NAACP. “The Seattle Police Department has used Detective Bouldin’s strong relationship with the Black community to portray such relationship as one the department itself has with the Black Community.”
However, the lawsuit alleges that “behind closed doors, other officers have belittled Detective Bouldin, challenging her loyalty to the department and marginalizing her for her active role in the community.” According to the lawsuit, the level of discrimination “has had a significant impact on her emotional and physical wellbeing.”
Neither the city nor the Seattle Police Department responded to requests for comment Wednesday.
Bouldin has a reputation for working with children in South Seattle, teaching them what to do and how to act when stopped by officers. That outreach has earned her a reputation among communities of color as an advocate — and among some of her fellow officers as a turncoat, the lawsuit claims.
“Unfortunately, some officers have overtly held that against her and have treated her differently as a result,” the lawsuit alleges. “She files this claim for damages in hopes that the department will authentically address issues related to racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination she has faced during her career.”