Brandan Hanks is seeking $33 million in damages from the Syracuse Police Department.
By Terrell Jermaine Starr
A 28-year-old Black police officer in Syracuse has filed a federal lawsuit against his department for what he claims is “blatant and extreme racism.” Officer Brandon Hanks and his lawyer further describe the department’s attitude towards Black officers as “Jim Crow culture.”
Hanks was up to join the department’s gang violence task force this year but was denied because, according to the lawsuit filed in the Northern District of New York, he was a “gang member” and “narcotics trafficker” who has “known associations with gang members and convicted criminals.” Hanks is seeking $33 million in damages, according to the Washington Post.
Born and raised in Syracuse, Hanks joined the police force to effect change in how Black people are treated by law enforcement. Hanks, who played DIII basketball at State University of New York at Morrisville, plays basketball with young people and gives a new pair of sneakers to whoever beats him; if he wins, the loser has to do 20 push-ups. A 2019 video of him playing basketball with a kid went viral, earning him a little stardom in the town. Rajon Rondo gave Hanks 25 pairs of sneakers to support his efforts.
None of this seemed to matter when he was up for the coveted gig in the gang violence task force.
On April 8, Capt. Timothy Gay, head of the police department’s special investigations division, expressed his “founded and reasonable concerns” about Hanks joining the gang violence unit in an internal memo to Deputy Chief Richard Trudell. Gay wrote that other gang violence task force members, including Trudell, shared his sentiments that Hanks was closely associated with gang members.
“Hanks’ association with known gang members, convicted criminals — felony and RICO — known to be involved in gangs, narcotics trafficking and other criminal activity are cause for concern when considering a transfer to the Special Investigations Division,” Gay wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Post. RICO refers to the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Gay was among a group of officers who had been previously sued for bringing pornography to work and discriminating against Sonia Dotson, a Hispanic female community service officer. (The jury ruled in Dotson’s favor in 2010.) Court records obtained by The Post show Trudell acknowledged that he had previously used racial slurs, including the n-word, when he was off duty.
In the memo, Gay pointed to Hanks’s tattoo of the 2Pac lyric and said it matched that of an alleged gang member. Hanks said he got the tattoo with someone he considered his best friend when they were 16. They lost touch after they graduated from high school, he said, with Hanks off to college and the friend gravitating toward a gang.
While initial concerns among several officers about Hanks’s prior relationships and friendships were reviewed, Buckner said, the allegations were “ultimately never adopted or accepted by Department leadership.”
There was also a traffic stop involving Hanks in which, Gay alleged, the officer was thought to be with gang members in his car “who were drinking,” and potentially a person with a felony warrant. The memo provided no evidence as to why his colleagues thought people in Hanks’s car were gang members. Instead, Hanks said, he was with a close friend, a high school teacher in Syracuse, and the officer who pulled him over never asked for their identification.
The Syracuse Police Department police chief, Kenton Buckner, said Hanks’s allegations “painted an inaccurate picture” of the department, and that the city would “vigorously dispute these claims through the legal process.” Buckner, who is also named in the lawsuit, pushed back against the claim that Hanks was denied the position and that it was still available to him.
As for Hanks, who is still on active duty, he feels his days in the department are numbered and worries about his relationships with fellow officers.
“I don’t worry about the stuff in the memo, but the silent officers who haven’t said anything about it to me? Those are the people that I’m scared of,” Hanks said. “I don’t know if I can trust being around these people. Are they going to have my back?”