Addressing a public comment made at an Edmonds City Council meeting two weeks ago, Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan and Human Resources Director Mary Ann Hardie came before councilmembers Tuesday night to respond to a citizen’s claim that there are ongoing issues of sexual harassment in the police department.
“To imply or somehow conclude that sexual harassment is the norm in our department is absolutely not supported by the facts,” Compaan said during the public comment portion of Tuesday night’s council meeting. “Nor is it supported by our history nor would I as chief find it in any manner acceptable.”
Added Hardie: “I am not aware that there is any culture of harassment or discrimination in any department at the city. This simply would not be acceptable or tolerated.”
Compaan and Hardie were responding to a statement from Edmonds resident Leslie Brown, made during the March 28 council meeting’s public comment period, that pointed to the city’s recent $235,000 settlement of a lawsuit brought in 2013 by Edmonds police officer Jodi Sackville.
In her claim, Sackville alleged three years of ongoing on-the-job sexual harassment, stating that she had reported to her superiors that she was being harassed by a police sergeant, and that the Edmonds Police Department failed to respond with “prompt and effective steps to provide a safe working environment.” Sackville left the department shortly after the settlement was approved in late February.
In Brown’s March 28 statement, she referred to “two other pending lawsuits against the police department and the city” — one involving a sexual assault by an Edmonds police officer and the other by a police employee who had a request for an accommodation denied when she reported a health issue.
“It is my understanding that sexual harassment in the Edmonds Police Department continues in the form of comments, jokes and rude remarks made toward officers,” the statement said. “If this is true it is a reflection of the culture that the police chief and his supervisors have been unable or unwilling to address.”
In her statement, Brown called on the city council to conduct an independent investigation to determine whether such ongoing harassment or other forms of discrimination were occurring.
Responding to Brown’s statement, Compaan noted first that the police department “takes any allegation of employee misconduct seriously, regardless of the nature of the misconduct.” The department has a specific policy regarding discriminatory harassment that requires police employees to report misconduct, and those complaints can be filed either to a superior officer, the human resources department or the mayor’s office, Compaan said.
Any allegations brought to the department are “thoroughly investigated,” and may include use of an outside investigator depending on the nature of those allegations, the chief said. Factual allegations supported by evidence receive appropriate disciplinary action or remedial training, Compaan said.
Regarding the settlement with Sackville, the police chief said that the city and its self-insurance pool, Washington Cities Insurance Authority, “did not admit liability as part of the settlement, and considers it to be a compromise of a disputed claim.”
He then pointed out that the other “pending lawsuits” mentioned in Brown’s statement were not sexual harassment lawsuits. “One resulted from criminal conduct by an Edmonds officer who was prosecuted and sentenced to prison for his crime, and who no longer works for us,” said Compaan, referring to the case of former Edmonds police officer Daniel Lavely. In 2013, Lavely was found guilty of first-degree sexual misconduct related to a May 2012 incident, in which he took a woman into custody in Edmonds and then had sex with her.
In that lawsuit, still in process, the Seattle woman involved in the incident sued the City of Edmonds for $2 million, stating the city failed to properly supervise Lavely.
The other pending suit involves a current police department employee regarding “a workplace accommodation for an alleged medical condition,” which does not involve claims of either gender or sexual discrimination, Compaan said.
“Litigation is a reality of our society,” Compaan said. “One of the best deflectors of litigation is risk management — having strong workplace policies, having regular training on workplace conduct, having strong accountability and, when needed, a robust investigative and disciplinary process. We have these things in place and we work closely with our human resources department and city attorney to follow both the spirit and letter of the law.”
“I have always encouraged anyone who believes they are the subject of inappropriate or discriminatory conduct by anyone at the police department to bring forward the facts surrounding their concerns to either me, the HR director or the mayor,” Compaan said. “I will continue to encourage the same for so long as I am privileged to serve as your police chief.”
— By Teresa Wippel