Wilson to take stand in race case
MADISON Nobody is denying that former Town of Beloit Police Chief John Wilson used racist language in the office.
But he did not discriminate against the owner of a local towing company, Wilson’s attorneys said Monday.
Wilson was expected to take the witness stand today in the federal lawsuit filed by Anthony Smith, owner of Flying AJ’s Towing, 515 Euclid Ave., Beloit.
The case could wrap up this week, said Smith’s attorney, Anne Sulton of Milwaukee.
Smith formed his two-truck towing company in 2002 and asked to be included on the lists used by municipalities for towing services. Rock County, the city of Beloit and the state of Wisconsin placed Flying AJ’s on their lists, Sulton said Monday during her opening statement in U.S. Court in downtown Madison.
The town of Beloit did not include Flying AJ’s on the list, she said.
Smith kept asking verbally and in writing to be included on the call list, Sulton said.
Meanwhile, Wilson starting in 2003 told police department employees that he would not give Smith any business, Sulton said. She told the jury that at least three former department employees would testify that they heard Wilson use the N-word while on the job.
Wilson admitted to doing so during depositions and will do the same on the stand, she said Monday.
Smith did not learn until 2009 that Wilson used such language and that he could be the victim of racial discrimination, Sulton said.
“ … his worst fears were realized: that it was the color of his skin. In America. In 2009. In Wisconsin,” Sulton said.
The town on two occasions sent Smith a letter in response to his requests to be on the town’s call list. The letters stated the town did not have a policy for placing towing companies on the call list, Sulton said.
Not having a policy did not mean the town did anything wrong, said Jefferson attorney Ben Brantmeier, one of two attorneys who spoke in Wilson’s favor.
When Wilson took charge of the Town of Beloit Police Department in 2003, it was a department that was in much need of an overhaul, Brantmeier said.
The department, for example, still used typewriters, he said Monday.
However, the department at the time was happy with its call list when it came to tow trucks, Brantmeier said.
“That was one aspect of the department that wasn’t broken,” he said.
Brantmeier agreed with Sulton that Wilson’s language was unacceptable, but as soon as town administration and elected officials learned about the issue, the town took action to stop it, Brantmeier said.
Despite Wilson’s use of racial slurs, he did not consider Smith’s race in his decision to deny Smith the work, Brantmeier said.
“There are reasons that have nothing to do with the plaintiff’s race,” Brantmeier said.
The Smith case is the first in a series of racial discrimination lawsuits against Wilson and the town. Five current or former employees also have filed lawsuits claiming Wilson discriminated against employees or others who were not white and retaliated against employees who asked him to stop.