Grandview Golf Course hearing: 'They didn't do anything to be removed'
Witnesses at an investigative hearing on alleged discrimination against five black women at a York County golf club testified 911 calls were allegedly placed prematurely and the club's reasoning for the calls seemed to transcend a slow pace of play.
The details surfaced during the first round of a two-day Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission investigative hearing in York City Council chambers on Thursday, June 21.
Police and another golfer at Grandview Golf Club on April 21 said the women were the only minorities present, had done nothing wrong and received unfair treatment.
The group of avid golfers, who call themselves The Sisters of the Fairway, made national headlines in April after video of them being confronted by course representative and former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister went viral.
Chronister, whose family owns the course, called the police on the women after they allegedly refused to leave when accused of playing too slowly.
The PHRC investigates employment discrimination complaints on behalf of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and housing discrimination complaints on behalf of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the agency's website.
On Thursday, a full room of the media, the public and those involved listened as five PHRC commissioners analyzed witness accounts offered under oath.
A rare form of hearing: The hearings are "far from the norm," said Commissioner Michael Hardiman. "Most hearings come from complaints from those who believe they have been discriminated against."
Chad Lassiter, executive director of PHRC, said this is only the third hearing of its kind that he knows of. However, Hardiman noted that the number didn't include possible early hearings in the 1960 and '70s.
The hearing is labeled a Section 8.1 PHRC hearing, which is "quicker and less formal" than normal investigations, said Chairman Joel Bolstein.
"The purpose of this hearing is to address the potential issue of racial tension," he said. "This session allows the commission to immediately hold a hearing of any problem of racial discrimination or tension in the Grandview incident."
The investigation is a direct response to information "already available in the public domain," such as social media and media coverage, he added.
"We can only make recommendations after these hearings," added Lassiter. "However, we hope that policy change can follow at the golf club."
All five women were present. Chronister and his family, who were invited to participate in the hearing, didn't attend.
Witnesses were questioned first by PHRC Chief Counsel Kathy Morrison. After initial questioning, commissioners were able to also participate.
Police witnesses: Northern York County Regional Police Officer Erika Eiker, who responded to both 911 calls, and her supervisor for the second call, Officer Cody Becker, were brought up to the witness stand.
Both officers confirmed that the five women were the only women — and only African-American individuals — on the golf course that day.
Neither officer said whether the treatment of the women seemed to be racially motivated.
Both officers said one of the men confronting the women was drinking but didn't seem to be intoxicated.
Regardless, the situation was anything but typical on a York County golf course.
Becker said the situation was an anomaly, and he "might not have ever encountered" a similar situation in nine years as a police officer.
Other golfers: Jerry Higgins, also golfing during the April 21 incident, said the treatment of the women was "unfair."
Higgins, a member since September, said the women teed off around 11:15 a.m., less than 10 minutes before Chronister's first 911 call. Chronister had reported they began between 10 and 10:30 a.m.
"It seemed like (golf course officials) knew who they were, and they didn't want them at their golf course," Higgins said. "I didn't think it was fair; they had good golf etiquette and were impressive."
Higgins said he questioned Chronister's decision.
After Higgins said the pace of play wasn't a problem, Chronister responded, "That's not the point," according to Higgins' recollection.
He then recalled one of the five men taking the key from the women's golf cart and pulling out a checkbook to refund the women for their memberships, which the club had intended to revoke after calling the police.
"I didn't think it was fair," Higgins said. "They didn't do anything to be removed from the premises or have their membership revoked."
Higgins, who still golfs at Grandview, said he's recently encountered loud, intoxicated white men who get through nine holes before being confronted by employees — treatment that differed from that shown to the women.
Racist history: Walter Palmer, founder of Palmer Foundation, a research and training institute on social justice, took the stand last, offering a brief history of American racism and how the country's history still shows today.
The 84-year-old scholar viewed the incident as a culmination of discrimination against African-Americans and women alike.
"We live in a society of white skin privilege, black skin disadvantage," said Palmer, who is also a professor of American racism at the University of Pennsylvania. "I also do not believe that women in American society are really equal to men. We still have a man-dominated society."
He added that white people have "fear of the black people, even without the presence of danger."
However, he emphasized he doesn't necessarily think those involved in racist acts are bad people.
"Implicit racism is something that this generation is born into," he said. "They are repeating what their parents taught them over the years: 'I am better.'"
The second day of the investigative hearings will begin at 9:30 a.m. Friday, June 22, in the York City Council Chambers. The women will be brought up to testify, and the hearing is expected to end by 5 p.m.
Official complaints: On June 11, three of the five women — Carolyn Dow, Sandra Thompson and Sandra Harrison — announced they had filed complaints with the EEOC and PHRC, which handle discrimination allegations at the federal and state level, respectively.
Dow and Thompson filed complaints through Zeff Law Firm LLC from Philadelphia, and Harrison filed through King, Campbell & Portz from Virginia.
Once complaints are filed, the state and federal agencies will determine whether there is evidence of discrimination.
If a complaint is deemed valid by either agency, the parties are invited to resolve the dispute in a private, confidential setting.
In the EEOC, if an agreement fails, the agency must decide whether to sue the employer in court — which only occurs 8 percent of the time, according to the agency's website.
In the PHRC, if the situation cannot be mediated, the agency assigns an investigator to look into the issue further.
The remaining two women — Karen Crosby and Myneca Ojo — also plan to file complaints against the golf club, Crosby said.
"It's astounding that this is even happening in this century," said Gregg Zeff, a civil rights lawyer for Zeff Law Firm. "I'm disheartened but pleased to announce that the women are filing administrative charges and beginning the process to bring justice to the situation."