Overbrook High School alum and two-time Major League Baseball All-Star Jeffrey Leonard has a good memory. He especially remembers people who have had an impact on his life and career. The late Joe Morgan was one of those people.
Morgan, who died at 77 on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, was a Baseball Hall of Fame second baseman who was Leonard’s teammate when the two played on the San Francisco Giants. At the time, Morgan was a former super star on the downside of his career. Leonard was a rising star who was just realizing his potential.
“He was a great guy and so good to me,” Leonard said. “[He] always had words of wisdom for me.”
Morgan, whom some regard as the game’s greatest second baseman, was also a pioneer in changing racial profiling. In 1988, Morgan, who had his best seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, was victimized by police because he is Black.
The Morgan case arose during a 1988 Joint Narcotics Task Force campaign against drug trafficking at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal.
Los Angeles Police Detective Clay Searle and a federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent had just arrested a suspected drug courier and were looking for his accomplice when they spotted Morgan.
Searle and the DEA agent reported that, when Morgan saw them, he stopped suddenly and hurried away in the other direction. They said he turned combative when Searle tried to question him.
But Morgan, who retired from baseball in 1984 to become a television sports broadcaster and businessman, said that he tried to identify himself to Searle, only to be grabbed and slammed to the ground.
“No matter how experienced the officer or how strongly he believes in himself, the rule of law must be controlling,” attorney William A. Barnes said. “People can’t be picked up on the basis of race.”
A jury in 1991 had awarded regular damages that now total $461,000, including interest and attorneys fees. A federal appellate court, however, had asked for a review of an additional $450,000 in punitive damages awarded by the jury.
A hearing on the punitive damages issue in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles was canceled because of the settlement. Morgan received about $361,000 — less than half of the settlement — with the rest going to his attorneys and to cover court costs.
Searle could have been liable for the punitive damages himself, but the City Council action relieves him of that burden. An internal Police Department review cleared the then 20-year veteran detective of wrongdoing, saying he had probable cause to detain Morgan.
Barnes said the settlement sends a message that the Police Department should be more careful in its identification of purported drug dealers.
“The drug courier profile is so regularly abused by law enforcement officers,” Barnes said. “The person stopped is always a person of color. . . . This puts a published opinion out there that this is not proper.”