When it rains it pours. I promised to keep up on this project and it’s been quiet, until now. A couple of things — I promised you a piece on a situation ongoing in the jails regarding sexual harassment — this is not the story I promised, sadly this is in addition to the one I’m working on. I am going to ask you to be patient on that as some deeper digging is done to hopefully bring you a stronger story on that. Other information has come in about a couple other situations as well that I’m working on and hope to bring in a day or three. Again, just because the election is over, the problems are not gone. We can only make a difference by stepping up to the plate and shining the light on what is wrong. So, onward we go…
Yesterday as I was perusing Twitter, I found the below document tweeted by Benjamin Law Group, filed against members of the Sheriff’s office for sexual harassment. As I read it, it rang many bells, bringing me back to a former deputy’s letter to my blog readers, and to other stories that were brought to me, but were never shared on my blog for various reasons.
I have heard repeatedly, from men and women alike, that there is a culture in the Sheriff’s office that allows “chosen” personnel to do as they wish and/or garner favors, special assignments and other benefits. I have heard the frustrations expressed by deputies who have tried to report incidents involving everything from minor harassment, to use of force issues only to meet with road blocks. I’ve also heard the frustration from sergeants, and the occasional lieutenant and captain regarding the lack of follow up in the system when they attempt to address disciplinary issues against certain people. The sheriff proudly stated repeatedly that she disciplined people who failed the office. Just from the information I have been given, from police reports to personal accounts, I could easily point to a number of people who, despite reason, haven’t even been investigated, never mind disciplined for concerning behaviors. I won’t presume to know how those investigations could have or should have turned out — they were never done, we don’t know — but the absolute lack of investigation into certain situations should be of dire concern. Especially in light of this latest suit.
I’ve talked to a few people who’ve worked directly with some of the people named in the below document and gotten visceral responses in some cases. Some I talked to also expressed a frustration at varying levels of their lack of ability to address disciplinary issues. At least one person mentioned in this has popped up in conversations repeatedly since I started this blog — mostly in regards to the fact that, because of favoritism and favors, this person was considered “untouchable” as one of the Sheriff’s people. To be fair, I’ve not heard the specific allegations of sexual harassment until this point, but I’ve heard many other concerns alleged.
While I’ve been doing this blog, there has always be a certain group of people that have been mentioned, often in vague terms, often with some fear attached that they would find out who I was talking to if an incident was mentioned on the blog. Rarely have I been able to tease out solid information on this group, often, when I’ve pushed, people have either changed the subject or walked away. They’re simply afraid of the, at least perceived power that they feel these people wield over their careers. I pose this — even if the power is only perceived, it is having a negative impact on the integrity of the office and the ability of deputies to speak up freely about problems. Even if the power of these people is only perceived, it is an issue that needs to be addressed — because somehow that perception has come to be and it needs to go.
Another issue in all this is women in law enforcement, and in any male dominated career, and how we can support them in a fair manner. Our Sheriff Herself has been touted as great for women in law enforcement. She’s been bragged about as the “First Lady Sheriff” despite arranging it so she could be sworn in before another woman who should have shared the title. Her supporters have gone on about how much she has done for women’s advancement in law enforcement, going from skirt-wearing matron, to Undersheriff — ignoring that she skipped large portions of the ladder others have to climb. We’ve heard about here “Women in Law Enforcement” recruiting programs. So much of it appears to be nothing more than a façade when it comes right down to it though.
When you dig down into the reality, there’s never been a female Assistant Sheriff. After 16 years in office surely she has had time to foster a few more female success stories in the office so there were qualified captains for the upcoming need to fill the Assistant Sheriff position yet again in December/January. There have been only a handful of female captains, all since the 2010 election where she was criticized for her lack of female promotions. Sadly, some of those promotions, unfairly or fairly, are questioned because they involve people with a perceived a background that may not support the promotion; colored by the perceptions we’re talking about in this blog now — favors and favoritism rather than experience, qualifications, respect and integrity. If these women are qualified and have earned their promotions, it’s been unfair for the administration to fail to defend their qualifications. In reality though, there seems to be a glass ceiling that starts at the Sergeants level and thickens up at the Lieutenants level. There are some exceptional female lieutenants. It’s also rumored throughout the office that their careers are dead ended despite the respect they have from the troops, despite their qualifications as law enforcement and proven leaders; or perhaps because of those very traits.
Yes, there have always been the stories and rumors of sexual harassment that have filled my mail box. When I addressed a local women’s political group about why they were supporting a sheriff with such a shoddy record among the majority of her female employees and the wives of deputies, I was attacked as “one of the boys.” Ironic, since I am not, nor have I ever been a boy. But it was the go to argument when you can’t answer the question.
My understanding is the Sheriff Herself isn’t responsible for creating this culture. I’ve been told by people around years before she became Undersheriff that this is the culture that the Sheriff was brought up in herself. Some even swear this is the system she manipulated to her career benefit. I don’t know if that’s true, and as a woman, even if she did, I don’t know if I would particularly blame her for turning their game on them and ending up at the top of the ladder for the last laugh. It’s not a path I chose to uncover, for variety of reasons, mostly because I felt it wasn’t important. Perhaps, in hindsight, I should have looked closer as an example of choices in taking on controversial and difficult problems. I won’t lie, I would certainly have to consider that path, so I’m not going to criticize any woman for taking it. The aftermath however bothers me, if this has been the culture for 25 years, rather than take the reigns and change things so no woman has to consider taking that path again, it appears, assuming some of the allegations in this suit are factual, she has sustained and perhaps continued to manipulate that culture to her professional benefit at some level rather than eliminate it.
I wish the sheriff had lost the election. I wish this office was planning for a new future with a new leadership. But the sad thing is that we are not. We will continue to see the problems that we talked about before the election. She, nor the majority of those in her administration seem to be concerned with changing directions. And the people who do want to do it differently, the information reaching my ears is that they’re being outcast and isolated by their peers.
Perhaps it’s time for the Sheriff to step down before she starts her 5th term in January. It won’t make this lawsuit go away, but it will give us all hope that we can work in an office again where everyone can be respected and problems will be addressed with integrity and fairness.