Edmonds police chief: Claim of ongoing sexual harassment ‘not supported by the facts’

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    Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan speaks to the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night.

    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

     

     

     

     

    15 COMMENTS

    1. Anyone who knows Chief Compaan knows that they can totally trust what he says. He’s a highly ethical person and we are very lucky to have him running our police department.

    2. I think an investigation by an independent agency is warranted. We have too often made the mistake of relying on the statements and promises of well-intentioned but unbiased individuals much to our detriment.
      It is not my intention to impugn the ethics of the Chief in any way but experience has shown us that in matters like this, an outside look is important.

    3. The City has organs that exhibit long-standing patterns of inadequate executive management attention to a systemic and perdurable culture of bullying and sexual harassment. In the few years I was part of the executive management team of a Department I witnessed it first hand as well as stood flabbergasted by executive management’s lack of quality contemporary training and ability to effectively manage a modern workforce. Strategic Human Resources management in the City is completely lacking, along with the spine to make tough personnel decisions to benefit the public interest. Sometimes the correct action is to terminate a bully, even if they’re in management, and take the lawsuit. It’s called protecting the dignity and self-respect of the organization. I refused to continue working for an organization that does not respect its own people, and it was financially and quality of life-wise the best decision I ever made.

      Anyone with any formal or professional knowledge and experience of public sector personnel administration knows the outward signs and symptoms of bullying and sexual harassment are concealed beneath the surface. Substance abuse, lack of motivation and productivity of employees, nepotism, turnover of the highest qualified and/or newest staff, and even employee suicide are all the signs of management’s ineptitude in addressing their most serious cultural responsibilities to the organization.

      One thing to understand about government employees is that a full-life municipal career attracts a certain type of person. Generally fear-driven people whose focus is on their pension and job security not public value or the creative impulse. This is why cultures of sexual harassment and bullying are able to continue unabated for decades in insulated organizations like the City of Edmonds. And they will continue to unless someone has the courage to do what is right for the people of Edmonds. I’m pretty sure that’s what you elected your executive to do.

      • The above post was edited a bit. What motivated this post was HR Director Hardie claiming ignorance of the existence of a culture of bullying and sexual harassment. She herself expressed to me her disbelief and unhappiness about experiencing it when she first joined the City. I was present for those conversations and the grudging acknowledgment of the same, particularly at my exit interview which I went out of my way to provide to discuss this very issue. To make that claim so boldly was beyond the pail and compelled some truth-telling in the public interest.

    4. Mr McConnell is a captive of his own bias. He sites no facts about the City of Edmonds because he had none. Just his belief of management ineptitude in HR matters. He then insults the employees by describing them as ” fear driven people”. What a crock of baloney.

      I have 44 years of intimate knowledge of governmental HR and in particular the HR
      Policies and practices of the City of Edmonds. Rest assured Edmonds has a robust HR department and practices. The allegation of “widespread discrimination in the police department” is not true and is a slander on the good people who serve the public in EPD and on Chief Compaan who is an honorable and compassionate Chief of Police.

      • We are all captives of our own bias to some extent, that’s what it means to be human. Compaan’s a good guy too no personal disrespect intended. He’s doing his best.

      • Hey, are you the same Mark R. Bucklin that founded the law firm Keating, Bucklin & McCormack, and that serves as General Counsel of Washington Cities Insurance Authority, mentioned in the article, which paid over half of the settlement for the City of Edmonds of the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Office Sackville?

        If so, awesome, because maybe you can answer my question:

        From a liability perspective, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the City of Edmonds and WCIA to commission an independent investigation to ensure that there is no ongoing culture of sexual harassment in the Edmonds Police Department? We all respect Chief Compaan for his statements that sexual harassment or discrimination are not tolerated, but these problems often hide from surface observation. We should make an honest effort to look beyond the surface, and if there is an ongoing problem, fix it for moral reasons, as well as the fact that eventually there will be more lawsuits, more settlements, higher insurance costs, worse morale and therefore higher turnover, and more difficult recruitment — all unpleasant problems which also have monetary consequences.

        As General Counsel of WCIA, perhaps you could help by recommending an investigation to identify any issues and guarantee these problems won’t come up in the future and calm the very valid concerns of Edmonds citizens. It would better serve WCIA (fewer settlement payouts) and better serve the City of Edmonds.

        If what you say is accurate (“the allegation of ‘widespread discrimination in the police department’ is not true”) then an independent investigation should result in a clean bill of health, perhaps with a few minor recommendations to ensure future compliance. If not, then the investigation would be prudent to put the police department back on the right track. After the recent settlement and other recent issues, there is no good reason not to get an outside expert opinion.

        Looking forward to your reply!
        Josh

        P.S. It’d be a nice idea to fully disclose your own associations with the subject of any articles you comment on in the future.

      • Yeah he is. And this post was made out of compassion for the employees of Edmonds many of which I care for still, because I empathize with why so many of them slog through a culture of fear in some parts of the organization. A lot of these folks are good people in bad environments who are fully dependent on the City’s golden handcuffs for healthcare for their sick spouse or children et cetera causing them great anxiety over rocking the boat. But there are definitely some bad apples executive management tolerates out of personal risk-aversion, lack of skill, or laziness. They deserve better, so does the public. Sexual harassment and bullying should not be making headlines in Edmonds or consuming HR effort or public funds, but it will until it’s taken seriously and the proper staffing adjustments are made.

      • Will also throw in here that an independent investigation is not a smart or practical use of time or resources. It would be highly devisive, distracting, involve past and present employees, almost certainly result in inconclusions (nearly always do), and ultimately have a net negative effect to the organization and polity. Poor outcomes all around.

        Community and organizational awareness is the sunshine that kills workplace bullying and harassment. Perpetrators are more circumspect when they see the spotlight. Sometimes with certain people it always has to stay near them.

        It’s the sad HR reality that there are still folks around today that think rude, insulting behavior is a management style or form of interpersonal communication and that it is alright to hold employees captive to the discriminatory biases and relational abuse of coworkers. But, the times they are a changing.

        Won’t be coming back to this thread. This concludes my public service.

    5. I can’t help but think back to one of our City Council meetings I attended after attending many for an extended period of time, when I witnessed a person sitting on the city side with some city people and she actually carried the brief case and sport coat of of one of our department heads………it was pretty incredible as had I not known who both the people were, I would have assumed she was his wife (not that it is ok for a wife to always be doing this) and she was in my opinion just like his little minion, maid, gofer, servant, etc. ……. whatever you want to call it……..and thinking to our current situation in the other Washington and similarities in this small town to what is shameful that some people think this day and age (and almost ALWAYS perpetrated against WOMEN, over and over, sexual harrasment) that bullying and sexual harassment is normal and ok and part of the ol’ boyz club……….A city that has management men that operate like this (any city ) is not the norm this day and age…….Again, not a whole lot unlike the other Washington and sickening for most women to watch……….To NOT have an independent investigation regarding this (and I don’t know many details of this) or any harassment within our city tells you something here……..It IS a culture that exists here in the City of Edmonds…..that is a no brainer. One need only to read some of the comments made in the past by some………….Thank you Mr. McConnell for having the courage to tell it like it is!

    6. One has to wonder here how many favors are needed to stay or be promoted within the city circle…….Just saying…..One has to wonder……

    7. In response to Mr Blakes post, yes I am all that you cite and more. I am also a former Snohomish County Deputy Prosecutor, a former Snohomish County South District Court Commissioner and Pro-tem judge, a past President of the Stevens Hospital Foundation and 67 year resident of Edmonds. I am the third generation resident of Edmonds. And yes, I am still in the private practice of law representing hundreds of governmental entities, private businesses, and individuals; not just the City of Edmonds.
      I wrote my post as a citizen of Edmonds because of my concern over the trend of late of persons making salacious allegations of wrong doing by persons and institutions of government without citing any facts to back up their claims. The call for independant investigations into such unsupported claims is nothing less than a call for a witch hunt. If someone accused you of being a witch with no facts to support the claim, how would you prove you are not a witch? Why should you have to prove a negative? It is not fair and as a society we should reject this trend. We do not need Inquisitions perpetuated in the name of independent investigations.

    8. We are a nation of laws and justice……….This is what keeps us CIVILIZED……………Those in our society that are most VULNERABLE need protection more than anyone else. We know who the most vulnerable are in our society. We are now a society that expects its government to be transparent at all times. This is how we keep it civilized.

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