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Police Sgt. Sues City, Claims He Was Discriminated Against For Wiccan Religion

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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A veteran Los Angeles police sergeant is suing the city claiming he was discriminated against because of his Wiccan religion, weeks after his wife filed a similar lawsuit.

Sgt. A.J. DeBellis, who joined the LAPD in 1990, filed a complaint Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation, according to City News Service.

DeBellis claims he was “verbally berated” and issued negative comment cards by a captain and a lieutenant after voicing complaints about his mandatory attendance at a training session and holiday gathering at a Christian church in Chatsworth in December 2012.

DeBellis claims he was required to sit through a recital of a Christian prayer and that religious music was played “during a significant portion of the event.”

“As a practicing Wiccan, (DeBellis) was deeply offended by the department’s decision to conduct the training session and holiday gathering at a religious facility and reasonably believed that the event violated the Establishment Clause and separation of church and state,” documents obtained by CNS read.

DeBellis, who was assigned to the Devonshire Division at the time, was allegedly given an unexpected shift change and was no longer permitted to fill in as watch commander, moves he defines as “religious-based harassment and retaliation”.

In another alleged incident in April 2013, DeBellis claims a flier was placed in his department mailbox about an upcoming day of prayer for a fallen officer which read, “One Nation Under God.”

“The flier was yet another act of retaliation for plaintiff reporting his opposition to the department’s religious-based misconduct,” the filing reads.

DeBellis claims he was also coerced into attending a departmental meeting to address his complaints without his lawyer present and that despite reaching out to Chief Charlie Beck, he has been subject to continued retaliation, including being denied disability insurance as he recovered from back surgery late last year.

DeBellis is seeking unspecified damages. A spokesperson for the LAPD has declined to comment on the case.

His suit echoes complaints formally filed by his wife, officer Victoria DeBellis, on March 26.

The officer, who joined the forced in 1996, claims management failed to act when she was harassed and ostracized by a colleague at the West Valley Division due to her gender and her Wiccan religion.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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