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Butte County Man Sues Chico Police Over Racial Discrimination Allegations

Rosemary Ketchum

A Butte County man is suing the Chico Police Department over allegations he was denied work – in part – because of his race.


Donell Thomas, a 35-year-old Black man, alleges police leadership unlawfully used his expunged criminal history to ban him from working with the department.

Court documents filed Friday say Thomas began working as a peer advocate for Butte County Behavioral Health last February. His duties included helping law enforcement in encounters with people suffering from mental illness.


Thomas alleges in the lawsuit that a police commander blocked himfrom working with Chico police because of his past, which included multiple misdemeanor convictions stemming from his teens to late 20s.


Thomas’ attorney, Larry Baumbach, says a judge dismissed those convictions in 2019. The lawsuit alleges violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and Baumbach says he believes Thomas faced discrimination because of his race.


“Instead of giving him a hand up, the Chico Police Department threw him an anchor and told him to go away because they didn’t like his background,” Baumbach said. “I find that appallingly narrow-minded and unlawful.”


The city of Chico declined to comment. But court documents show that last April then-Police Chief Mike O’Brien sent a letter to Thomas in response to an administrative complaint. O’Brien told Thomas the department didn’t violate any laws and took no action because of Thomas’ race.