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New Heber City Police chief faces two lawsuits alleging racism at previous department

Parker Sever is the new Heber City Chief of Police.
Grace Doerfler / KPCW
Parker Sever is the new Heber City Chief of Police.

The new Heber City Police Chief Parker Sever is named as a defendant in two lawsuits alleging race-based abuse against officers at his former police department in California.

The Heber City Council unanimously voted to approve Parker Sever as the city’s new police chief and he was sworn in on Oct. 16, 2023.

Before coming to Heber, Sever served as the chief of police in Hanford, California, for about a decade. Two lawsuits from current and former Hanford Police Department officers allege Sever engaged in overtly racist conduct while he worked there.

The first lawsuit was filed in January of 2023 by Jason Stingley, a Black man and former officer at the Hanford Police Department. The lawsuit alleges Sever and two other Hanford Police Department employees directly targeted Stingley through racial discrimination and retaliation to the point Stingley was forced to resign.

The second lawsuit was filed in December of 2023 by Patrick Jurdon, another police officer at the department. The lawsuit alleges Jurdon faced hostility, retaliation and disparate treatment for attempting to hold other members of the police department accountable for racially discriminatory behavior. Sever and four other Hanford police employees are named in the suit.

The City of Hanford and the Hanford Police Department are defendants in both suits.

Sever’s alleged racist conduct

According to Stingley’s lawsuit, the racist conduct began in October of 2006. Sever, a senior officer at the time, once allegedly instructed Stingley to drop to his knees and “pretend that he was a stereotypical Black man who committed a crime.” The other white officers then pretended to beat Stingley to show Black residents what would happen if they were to “get out of line.”

The lawsuit alleges in 2007 Sever told Stingley he was “just a subordinate Black man” and that he was going to request Stingley carry a spear instead of a handgun.

Then in October of 2020, when Sever was the Chief of Police at Handford, another Black officer was hired. Sever allegedly told Stingley “Now we don’t have to promote you, Jason.”

Stingley’s suit also mentions alleged racist conduct from Sever against other officers. Court documents state Sever allegedly emailed the entire police department correcting himself when he misidentified a Latino officer. It alleges the email said, “I meant Officer Rivera. Curse all of you for looking alike. Lol.”

Sever on the lawsuits

Though Sever would not comment on the lawsuits because of the pending litigation, he said, “I look forward to the actual facts of this case coming out.”

He said the City of Hanford released a statement saying it believes the allegations are unfounded. The city has denied all claims in Stingley’s lawsuit. Sever said Heber City will likely release a statement as well.

Sever previously told KPCW he gained valuable experience during his time at the Hanford Police Department. He also said Heber police officers should be community-minded, service oriented, and that “everybody has value in this life, and it’s important we recognize that.”

Heber City’s hiring process

The Heber City Council said it also can’t comment on pending litigation, but did speak to its hiring process. The council said Interim Heber City Police Chief Jeremy Nelson oversaw the vetting process for all police chief candidates. Heber City Human Resources also “conducted extensive background checks” on all candidates.

During background checks, the council said the allegations made by Stingley did come up. The City of Hanford’s attorney told the council the allegations were “baseless and gave his endorsement of Parker Sever.”

The council said Sever brought up the Stingley lawsuit and allegations of racism on his own during the interview process, which the council said, “spoke highly of his integrity.”

Considering this, the Heber City Council said it “felt confident moving forward with the hiring process.”