During a hearing Thursday on alleged racial discrimination against five women at Grandview Golf Club, eyewitness testimony challenged claims that the women were playing too slowly.
The hearing – day one in two days of hearings before a packed York City Council Chambers – gave members of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission an opportunity to hear details surrounding the events of April 21 as recounted by police officers, another golfer and 911 recordings.
During the incident, which garnered national attention, management at Grandview called the police on five African American women allegedly because they were playing too slowly at the York County course.
Questioning was led by the commission’s chief counsel, Kathy W. Morrison. Agency commissioners also questioned the witnesses.
Both responding officers from the Northern York County Regional Police Department as well as golfer Jerry Higgins said the women were the only women and African Americans on the course that day.
They were Sandra Thompson, 50, Myneca Ojo, 56; Karen Crosby, 58; and sisters Sandra Harrison, 59, and Carolyn Dow, 56.
“They were given reasons why this was happening – slow play and staying too long at the turn and holding up the golf course – and I didn’t see any of those things happening,” Higgins said in his testimony. “I even said, ‘The pace of play has been pretty good today.’”
He also testified that before police arrived at the course a second time, someone – he wasn’t sure who – took away the keys to the women’s golf cart, limiting their ability to play.
“It seemed to me that they [members of the Grandview staff] didn’t want them there,” he said.
All five women were present during the hearing. There was no representative from Grandview, but the voice of Steve Chronister, a former York County commissioner, could be heard during the two 911 calls that were played at the hearing. Chronister and his son, Jordan, and other partners purchased the golf club last year.
When Chronister called the first time, he said the women were not keeping pace. Shortly after police officer Erika Eiker first arrived, staff insisted that she did not need to make contact as the women had caught up with the expected pace. Chronister called back and requested police “get out here quickly,” as he wanted the women removed from the course. When asked if the women had weapons on them, Chronister responded with: “only their mouths.”
When the department responded a second time, Eiker was joined by her supervisor, Corporal Cody Becker. In the nine years he’s been on the department, Becker said he has never responded to any club or organization that requested a member – or members – be removed. Eiker also said she’s never responded to call of that nature.
Commissioners also heard from Walter Palmer, president and founder of Palmer Foundation and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, who provided expert analysis on implicit bias and race relations.
Following the end of the hearing, many of the women expressed hope for a positive outcome.
“It’s been a life-changing experience and I hope it promotes positive change in our community and in the world,” Crosby said.
Though they are not common, the commission has previously held investigatory hearings under section 8.1 of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, said M. Joel Bolstein, chairperson of the human relations commission. The section allows the commission to hold hearings without anyone making a direct complaint.
“Public concern had been raised, that’s why we decided to hold it,” he said, noting that the commission had received a number of letters from state legislators who thought the incident merited an investigation.
In 2009, Bolstein said the agency investigated a swim club in Philadelphia that was accused of racial discrimination toward a group of visiting minority children. Three years later, the club – which became defunct after filing for bankruptcy in 2009 – agreed to a settlement of $1.1 million, split among the 73 African Americans who were denied swimming privileges at the club.
During the two-day hearing in York, the commission is gathering facts, Bolstein said. Following Friday’s hearing, the agency will put together a report.
Day two of the hearing begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the York City Council Chambers with testimony expected from the women as well as the commission’s executive director, Chad Lassiter.