Officer Zuriah McKnight has been on leave for several months and is accusing the district of discrimination based on his race.
PERRIS, Calif. (KABC) -- A lawsuit filed by a Perris school police officer accuses the Val Verde Unified School District of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
Officer Zuriah McKnight has been on leave from the department for several months and is accusing the district of discrimination based on his race.
"These issues were not isolated. They were ingrained in the system," said McKnight during a news conference Tuesday where the filing of the lawsuit was announced. "Racial disparity has plagued law enforcement for too long, and it affects not just me, but countless others like me."
According to the complaint filed in Riverside County Superior Court, the chief of police once asked McKnight "if he was just going to eat fried chicken" when he declined to eat bagels brought to a briefing.
The complaint also alleges that McKnight's superiors made derogatory comments about the Black Lives Matter movement, and instructed McKnight to speak out against an item proposed by a school board member that would cut police funding, saying the board presidents "would be more likely to listen to another Black man."
McKnight also accuses his superiors of disparaging remarks made against women.
In one example, the chief of police and sergeant are accused of refusing to sign a "Get well" card for a female officer who suffered a gunshot wound, saying, "if she was at home like she should have been, she wouldn't have been shot."
Since that time, the lawsuit alleges that the department has opened multiple investigations into McKnight, including one for an alleged inappropriate relationship with a co-worker that McKnight denies.
According to the lawsuit, he alleges that it is retaliation and an attempt to defame him. McKnight said that due to stress and anxiety, he requested he be placed on medical leave.
"I did [this job] for the kids. I volunteered for nonprofit organizations that deal with youth, and I gave it my all every day I went in there, and to see something taken away from you that you've worked so hard for; it messes with your mental psyche, and your emotional wellbeing," he said.
Last year, a video of McKnight dancing at a school pep rally went viral, garnering praise from students. Attorney Mika Hilaire said he also received backlash following that event.
"There were also comments questioning his abilities as well when he got some attention for being on the news because he was so well-liked and was dancing with students ... he got backlash for that," she said.
An official from the Val Verde Unified School District said they have been instructed by legal counsel not to comment due to pending litigation.