Barbara Howard: Keon Finklea grew up in Boston. A few years ago, he took the civil service exam and, with his good score and stellar references, he seemed destined for the police academy. But it was not meant to be. The Boston Police Department, noting a decades-old 'Continued Without a Finding' — or 'CWOF' — court disposition, bypassed Finklea in favor of admitting five others with lesser scores to the police academy. This is not the first time a 'CWOF' has been used to bypass a candidate.

Keon Finklea is black. Last year, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice filed a complaint for judicial review.  Now, Suffolk Superior Court has found that the police department was in error in considering that 'Continued Without a Finding' — that it was "not reasonable justification" for removing a candidate like Finklea in favor of those with worse exam scores.

With me in the studio to talk about all of this is Sophia Hall from the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. She is also Keon Finklea's attorney. Thank you for coming in.

Hall: Thanks for having me here, Barbara.

Howard: So first of all, let's talk about your client. Did he always want to be a police officer?

Hall: He did. Keon is a Boston native who grew up inner city with a single mother who passed away from cancer at early age, and he was lucky enough to have a mentor, who was a police officer, who lived right up the street from him. And he watched this gentleman, and that's how he decided that he wanted to be just like him when he grew up.

Howard: So years prior to taking the exam, back when Finklea was 18 years old, he did end up getting in trouble — something about a stolen tire? Tell me about that.

Hall: Yeah, so when Keon was about 18 years old, he received a tire from a friend, that later he was arrested and charged with receiving stolen property. He was appointed a public defender who told him that if he took a 'CWOF' — a 'Continued Without a Finding' disposition — after a year, this would go away and it would have no future repercussions.

Howard: So you're not saying that he didn't have this blemish on his record, but just that it's not something that should be used in terms of his being considered as a police officer?

Hall: Well, what the court got right, and what civil service got right, is that this is an isolated, stale incident of a kid who didn't even know what he was getting into through the criminal justice system. And really what BPD here is doing, is they're unlawfully expanding the use of criminal records, right? They're saying 'Okay, this isn't really a felony conviction, but it's a felony 'CWOF,' it kind of looks like that. Why don't we just go ahead and say if you have this we can't have you as a police officer too.'

So it's problematic, the way that they expand the use of criminal records. But then what I know from other cases that I have in doing bypass work is that the rules don't always play the same depending on who the client is.

Howard: Do you see people with 'CWOFs' who are white getting put in?

Hall: I do.

Howard: And those who are black getting bypassed?

Hall: Sometimes and sometimes not. I have one client recently that I represented, didn't even have a 'CWOF.' He got arrested once 17 years ago and they used his arrest that never led to a criminal conviction, never led to a 'CWOF,' as the basis for his bypass. But I looked through his class, I saw evidence of multiple other candidates in his class that had been arrested or had criminal records like 'CWOFs' who didn’t get bypassed.

Howard: And were they white?

Hall: Some were.

Howard: And was he black?

Hall: Yes. Sometimes people have 'CWOFs 'on their record. Sometimes that leads to a bypass, and sometimes it doesn't.

Howard: Okay, so your client Keon Finklea — what's his status right now?

Hall: So we are awaiting some final findings from the Civil Service Commission. Once the court has that information, they will be able to make a final decision in this case. And if we are successful, they’ll reverse the decision to bypass him, which means that he will be back on the eligible list, potentially in the next academy class.

Howard: What kind of man is he?

Hall: He's a person from Boston who wants nothing more than to serve his community, and all of the people who vouched for him thought that he would be a phenomenal fit. He even had a reference from the city of Boston itself.

Howard: Now he's what, 34?

Hall: Approximately.

Howard: How old do you have to be to join the force?

Hall: The law requires you to be between 18 and 34. And so this is actually his last shot. So if we're not successful on winning this case and reversing the bypass decision, Keon will have to move on from his dream of becoming a police officer.

Howard: Thank you so much for coming in.

Hall: Thank you for having me.

Howard: That's Sophia Hall from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, who is Keon Finklea's attorney. Suffolk Superior Court has found that the Boston Police Department was in error in removing Finklea from consideration for the police academy. The Boston Police Department declined to comment to us on this case, citing pending litigation.