The Martha's Vineyard NAACP this week called for the immediate dismissal of John Dillon, a Tisbury police patrolman who has been charged with racism by a fellow officer.

In a three-page letter to the Gazette, the NAACP lists a series of alleged offenses by Mr. Dillon, highlighted by an incident in which the officer parodied stereotypical African-American speech when rewriting a computer document authored by Theophilus M. Silvia 3rd, the town's only year-round African-American patrolman.

The letter also takes aim at police chief John J. McCarthy, charging that he "fostered and encouraged" a corporate culture that allowed Mr. Dillon's offensive behavior.

These charges mirror the contents of complaints filed by Mr. Silvia during the past 12 months with Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. The details of the state complaint was made public last week by the NAACP, where officials said they acted out of frustration over the town's handling of the issues. The MCAD complaint named the town of Tisbury, the police department and Mr. McCarthy as defendants.
This week, the organization took an even stronger stand.

"In the NAACP's 34-year history on Martha's Vineyard, it has had many claims of racial and ethnic bias brought before it," the letter states. "This is the only time that the organization has taken such a public and strong position. The evidence we have reviewed in Officer Silvia's case is compelling, and the acts of Dillon and McCarthy are so egregious and chilling that we chose to bring the matter to the community so that you can make your feelings known.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The police must be above reproach, not above the law."

The letter was crafted by nine people -- NAACP officers and members of the executive committee -- at a six-hour emergency meeting Monday night, said Carrie Tankard, first vice president. The group voted unanimously to demand Mr. Dillon's termination, she said.

"You can't have this sort of thing happening and not do anything about it. That's not the Island," Mrs. Tankard said. "We don't want it."
The response from those named as culprits has been surprise and disappointment.

Mr. Dillon, who is currently on an unpaid 19-day suspension that ends today, said the accusations are unfair.

In an interview this week with the Gazette, he admits having changed the language in Mr. Silvia's letter. He denied it was a racist act. Mr. Dillon changed the language by adding the letter "S" to the ends of many words. A line in the altered letter states: "I's had been resting ons my couch fors a while."

"I did parody the letter," said Mr. Dillon, a 12-year-veteran of the department. "There was never any racial overtone intended. I was parodying his writing style only. I'm sorry it happened."

Meanwhile, town officials have been reluctant to respond to specific allegations about Mr. Dillon, citing privacy issues.

But Mr. McCarthy complained that the organization has leveled some charges against Mr. Dillon that can't be proved. For instance, while the NAACP has accused Mr. Dillon of creating a discriminatory poster that portrays Mr. Silvia in a hunched posture, Mr. McCarthy said it's unclear who brought the poster into the station.

Besides that, Mr. McCarthy said the organization is wrong in its indictment of the department as a whole.

"The members of the committee are people whom I hold in high regard. The accusations made in the letter demonstrate that the committee has been provided with a few facts, a great deal of misinformation and false information," he said in a formal statement released yesterday.

"I don't think we have a racist department," he later said in an interview. "What I think we've been talking about and what's been brought up here is really an anomoly. I don't think it's representative, and I think it's unfair that other members of the department are being brought into the limelight on this."

The limelight of the past week actually has its roots in events much older.

Mr. Silvia first raised allegations of racism in a lengthy MCAD complaint filed in April 1996. In those original documents, he complained of unfair treatment in his work schedule and in the training made available to him since he was hired as a permanent patrolman in 1994. In response, the town filed a lengthy rebuttal stating that the allegations were flatly wrong and that every incident could be explained. The response also criticized Mr. Silvia's ability to satisfy the requirements of his job, which he won only after great controversy over his qualifications. Mr. Silvia was hired over the objections of Mr. McCarthy, who did not feel he was the best candidate because he had not passed a police officers examination.

The complaint was amended, however, with an item of a different nature. The newer evidence was a poster, displayed in the police station more than a year ago, depicting Mr. Silvia in a hunched posture. The picture was accompanied by a three-paragraph caption, identifying the image as "Sgt. Silvia of the special needs police," and offering a parody of stereotypical African-American speech. To this, the town has responded with shock. Mr. McCarthy has said he learned of the poster a few months ago, through the MCAD, and has attempted vigorously, but unsuccessfully, to find out who made it.

Then, in a complaint just received by the town on March 21, Mr. Silvia and his attorneys chose to concentrate on the behavior of one officer: Mr. Dillon.

In the complaint, Mr. Dillon is accused of reckless behavior, including specific acts against Mr. Silvia, such as the parody computer letter, and general inappropriate behavior, such as writing the name 14-year-old Rachel Wild, the daughter of former selectman Elizabeth B. Wild, on a target used at shooting practice.

In a letter to a department superior, Mr. Silvia expresses fear.

"I am not going to take this officer or his threats lightly," the letter states. "I strongly feel something bad is going to happen to someone. I can tell by looking, listening and watching officer Dillon and his actions."

The complaint shows that Mr. Dillon was punished for certain offenses, but in other cases the police chief found no offense. For instance, in an incident in which Mr. Dillon allegedly threatened Mr. Silvia, Mr. McCarthy determined that the remarks were made in jest. The last page of the complaint shows that Mr. McCarthy denied a request from Mr. Silvia that he be relieved of working under Mr. Dillon's supervision.
Now, Mr. Silvia's attorney, Theophilus R. Nix Jr., says the solution is clear.

"He's a rogue cop," Mr. Nix said. "And he needs to be removed."

Mr. Dillon declined to comment on several aspects of the complaint, noting that some of the episodes are still being discussed as part of police union grievance procedures.

But he said the list of complaints draws an inaccurate portrait. Any tension he has experienced with Mr. Silvia has been based on personality conflict and job-related issues, not race, he said. He has never threatened Mr. Silvia, he said.

"It's an unfair picture of me," he said. "Those who know me know that I'm not the person I'm being made out to be."

When questioned specifically about this public litany of charges against Mr. Dillon, Mr. McCarthy said he has strived for fairness.

"Faced with the information I had on the actions that were inappropriate actions, I felt I took the appropriate disciplinary action," the chief said.

"I do that in every single case that comes to my attention. Can people Monday morning quarterback that? Can people have other opinions about that? Absolutely. But each individual who's disciplined has rights as well.

"My disciplinary actions have to be balanced. I feel that I've done that. The people who are overseeing this in the town feel that I've done that, and I'm not going to fight this in the press."

Tristan Israel, chairman of the board of selectmen, agreed. The MCAD will clear the town of any wrongdoing, he said.

"We will not tolerate racism in the town of Tisbury," Mr. Israel said. "I'm saddened by the events that happened and I believe pretty much what I said in the letter. This is before the MCAD, and I believe the MCAD will get to hear all sides of the story, and I'm confident they will exonerate the town of any wrongdoing. We support the chief and the police department."

Staff writer Jason Gay contributed to this story.