INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Three former Philadelphia police officers who contended they suffered retaliation because they opposed discrimination against African American officers said yesterday they felt vindicated by the $10 million verdict awarded by a federal court jury.

"We got justice," declared William McKenna, 42, of Northeast Philadelphia, outside the U.S. Courthouse the day after he and his fellow ex-officers - his twin brother, Michael, and Raymond Carnation - won the hard-fought case.

Late Wednesday, a nine-member jury awarded $2 million to Carnation, $3 million to William McKenna, and $5 million to Michael McKenna after deliberating three hours. The defendant was the City of Philadelphia.

The three plaintiffs, who are white, alleged that they suffered retaliation because they opposed a racially hostile work environment and discrimination against African American officers at the 25th Police District.

City Solicitor Shelley Smith yesterday expressed disappointment in the verdict, but said she believed that, even if the plaintiffs ultimately prevailed, the monetary award would be "very substantially" reduced.

"We're disappointed in the verdict, but we continue to believe that their claims didn't have any merit," Smith said.

She said lawyers for the city were considering filing post-trial motions or an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. "We're in the process of evaluating that now," said Smith.

U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin, who presided over the trial, had thrown out the lawsuit in 2003, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reinstated the suit in 2006.

"We find that a jury might well believe that their supervisors made their lives the 'living nightmare' one supervisor promised as payment for opposing unlawful discrimination," the appeals court said.

Brian Puricelli, the attorney for the three former police officers, said the jury's decision brought his clients some much-needed comfort and vindication.

"They were driven out of the Police Department," said Puricelli, who said Michael McKenna wept as the verdict was announced.

"You could feel the tension that I know has been in their lives - you could feel it just leave," said Puricelli. "These guys will be able to go along with their lives."

William McKenna said the retaliation began after he complained back in 1997 to a supervisor about two black officers' being mistreated, and then complained that an officer had made racist comments to a motorist.

His twin brother and Carnation, who was William McKenna's partner, also complained about discrimination, and all three were harassed, the plaintiffs contended.

William McKenna said there was a district-level investigation, but no action was taken.

Michael McKenna, who now lives in Florida, said he hoped the city had learned from the verdict. "It's not just that we won," he said. "Hopefully, we taught the city something."