Racist texts allegedly sent by the owner of a company contracted by the MTA to perform pre-employment polygraph screenings for the agency’s police force are raising new questions about racial gatekeeping within the ranks.
Messages allegedly sent by celebrity polygrapher and InDepthPolygraphs owner Daniel Ribacoff to an employee came to light when a prospective MTA police officer filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint against the agency.
In his filing on Sept. 29, NYPD officer Jonathan Carter claims he was turned down for the job for failing the polygraph test given by Ribacoff’s daughter.
A text allegedly sent by Ribacoff on Sept. 15, 2017 showed an internet meme with the Disney character “Tigger” photoshopped above a Black child’s head with the caption “You’ve heard of ‘Elf on a Shelf,’ now get ready for...” The implication is that the sentence ends with the N-word.
Another message allegedly from Ribacoff, who is white, on Feb. 7, 2018, includes former President Trump placing his hand through an opening in Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall with the caption “No, this is not good. You could fit a Mexican child through there,” according to legal papers.
In another 2018 exchange, Ribacoff allegedly sent a meme of a Monopoly board called “Black Monopoly” where all the spaces were “Go to Jail.”
The employee responded, “lmao,” then allegedly told Ribacoff how he dressed in blackface on Halloween in1983, the EEO complaint details.
“Hahaha. Love it,” Ribacoff allegedly replied.
At least seven other racially-charged texts mentioned in the EEO complaint include one on March 24, 2018 in which Ribacoff, referring to another worker, allegedly wrote, “only give him ghetto work.”
The texts - found by Carter’s lawyer – are evidence in a pending, unrelated lawsuit against Ribacoff in Nassau County.
Carter, who is Black, joined the NYPD in 2015. He said his record is clean, aside from one unsubstantiated Civilian Complaint Review Board case from 2016.
He passed his physical and medical examinations in early 2020 and was ready to start his new job at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Then, in December, he failed the final step: the required polygraph test.
“I have White Coat Syndrome, and get nervous during these things,” said Carter, 29. “I didn’t know what the word ‘conceal’ meant immediately — and she asked me about my CCRB. I said I had none, but she said I lied.”
Carter plans to sue the MTA if the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not take up the case and sue the agency on his behalf.
“Carter wasn’t treated fairly and he wasn’t treated to standard operating procedures,” said his lawyer Peter Crusco. “Polygraphing is not an exact science. It’s a subtle form of art and it can be manipulated if you don’t follow the rules of the road.”
The texts allegedly sent by Ribacoff came as no surprise to current and former members of the MTA police force who accuse the force of racial gatekeeping.
Roughly 56% of the 1,097 MTA police officers are white, agency officials said. That’s more than 10% higher than the 45% of the NYPD’s 34,500 uniformed officers who are white.
Jose Deras, a lieutenant, who’s vice president of the MTA PD Guardians, a group that advocates for officers of color, said he experienced discrimination when he applied.
“I was told I shouldn’t apply for the job, and was turned down,” said Deras. “Six years later I was finally allowed in.”
“There’s a large amount of nepotism and cronyism within most law enforcement agencies,” said Jaraad Hakim, who’s retired from the MTA PD but still treasurer for the Guardians.
“At the MTA, what happens is for a lot of candidates of color is they’re first generation. They’re the first one in their family to be in law enforcement, so there’s no one to tell them what to look out for.”
Many white MTA Police candidates with family members at the agency get a heads up for examinations and advice on how to game the application process, Hakim said.
Hakim and Deras want the MTA to overhaul way officers are screened and hired — starting with nixing the contract with Ribacoff’s company.
“Mr. Ribacoff has absolutely no recollection of sending such text messages,” said his lawyer, Michael Cassell, who added the messages came from people who were suing Ribacoff, “undermining the authenticity and legitimacy of the referenced texts.”
“There is no connection whatsoever between the text messages and how Mr. Ribacoff’s company applies polygraph tests to prospective members of the MTA police force,” Cassell said.
The MTA would not comment on Carter’s filing, but spokesman Tim Minton said, “We are committed to a diverse and discrimination-free hiring process and to employing officers who reflect the communities they serve and protect from Poughkeepsie to Montauk. Racism and bigotry in any form are never acceptable and are inconsistent with the values of the MTA.”