KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A fired Kalamazoo police officer says he was the victim of discrimination and false accusations and has now filed a lawsuit against the city.
Amir Khillah says he wants his job back.
The suit filed Monday claims the city violated Khillah’s civil rights and federal whistleblower protections when it kicked him off the force after he complained about alleged discriminatory behavior by a sergeant.
Khillah told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday that he wants to make it clear his complaints are against only a few bad apples, not against the entire Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety.
“I love being a police officer. For me, it’s personal, but it’s also a calling,” said Khillah, who said he sought asylum in the U.S. years ago because he faced oppression as a Christian in his native Egypt.
Now an American citizen, he has run a dojo called Lightning Kicks Martial Arts Academy in Kalamazoo’s Edison Neighborhood since 2001. He said he trained many police officers until deciding to become a cop himself in 2015 at the age of 35.
“This is my neighborhood,” Khillah told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday, looking around Mills Street outside his dojo. “They’ll tell you I’m a fair police officer, I take care of my citizens and I genuinely want what’s best for them.”
Tristan Ricardo, an Edison Neighborhood resident, started an online petition calling on the city to give Khillah his job back.
“I just felt it was a big injustice and he is someone who really cares about the community,” Ricardo said.
Khillah received multiple commendations while on the force, including one in April 2017, when he crawled through a burning house to rescue a man.
But in November 2017, a sergeant who is an Iraqi war veteran began hurling slurs at Khillah, the lawsuit alleges. The sergeant also allegedly became angry when Khillah chose to issue a warning instead of a ticket to an African-American driver on Feb. 6 of this year. The sergeant claimed that Khillah mishandled the situation.
“I took a stand. I got a lot of pressure not to. I was told not to martyr my career,” Khillah said. “I’m a pretty naïve and slow guy, so I just did what I thought was right.”
He wrote a letter to KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas outlining the alleged incident and the numerous incidents of discrimination.
“It was certainly one of the hardest times of my life,” Khillah said. “It is still.”
The city fired Khillah on March 27, claiming misconduct and lying about the traffic stop.
“I don’t want a divide in the city. I want the city to stay whole, trust the process and we’ll make sure justice prevails,” Khillah said.
He does not want to see the department as a whole tainted.
“There’s great men and women out there on the front line that I know are good people,” Khillah said. “They love the community and they love the citizens and they want to serve.”
The suit seeks financial compensation, but Khillah says he wants his job back.
“I will be a police officer again,” Khillah said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, 24 Hour News 8 tried to contact the city manager’s and police chief’s offices. They had not replied as of Tuesday night.