BOONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld the firing of an Indiana sheriff's deputy who accused the department of racism in part because detectives watched excerpts from the movie "Blazing Saddles" in his presence.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that Warrick County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Harris' 2007 firing for insubordination was legal. Harris was let go during a standard one-year probationary period.
Harris claimed white officers on probation received better treatment despite their performance problems. Harris also claimed other deputies gave him racially tinged nicknames modeled after African-American TV characters, according to court documents.
A federal judge in Indianapolis, however, ruled there wasn't enough evidence to show discrimination, and the appeals court agreed.
"Harris's circumstantial evidence of discrimination falls far short of supporting an inference that he was terminated because of his race," appellate Judge Diane Sykes wrote for the three-judge panel.
The Evansville Courier & Press reports (http://bit.ly/xk6w6t ) that Sykes wrote that Harris' argument that "Blazing Saddles" encouraged racism was "hard to take seriously" since the 1974 Mel Brooks comedy mocks racist attitudes.
She noted the movie, which was nominated for three Academy Awards, satirizes racial, ethnic and social stereotypes.
"The movie makes racism ridiculous, not acceptable, as Harris contends," she wrote.
But Harris' attorney, Kyle Biesecker, said the court may not have recognized the context of the situation in which Harris found himself. Biesecker said Harris was the only black man in a room where four white co-workers were streaming "racist jokes" from the movie downloaded from a website called americanracist.com.
"We're not claiming that 'Blazing Saddles' is in itself racist. We recognize that it is a satire," Biesecker told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Sykes also wrote that the issues with other deputies' performance weren't comparable to Harris'.
Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com