San Francisco Bay Area

Lawsuit Filed By Dispatcher Claims Alleged Sexual Misconduct at Gilroy Police Department

Members of the Gilroy Police Department hosted sex parties, exposed themselves at a Christmas party and had inappropriate relations with young Police Explorers, according to a lawsuit filed by an ex-police dispatcher.

The 60-page NSFW suit names names—including high-ranking officers, police wives and girlfriends—and graphically describes alleged sexual misconduct and possibly criminal conduct. In addition, plaintiff Patricia Harrell says in the suit filed Aug. 7 in state Superior Court that she faced harassment for complaining about the activity.

City officials had little to say about the suit.

Though neither Police Chief Scot Smithee nor Public Information Officer Jason Smith were available for comment, Captain Kurt Svardal, who has been with the force since 1992, said he would not make any comments about pending litigation.

“I have not seen it,” said Svardal. “I am sure the city has it. Obviously it’s pending litigation so we won’t make any comment. I’m sure the city will vigorously defend it and I’m not going to comment yet because I don’t know the contents.”

Harrell, a veteran senior police communications supervisor, was fired three years short of full pension eligibility. She was sacked for alleged improper conduct with trainees when she attempted to warn them about the situation in the GPD.

She had worked for the department since 1990.

But Harrell, a wife of 29 years and mother of four, claims her termination was part of a coordinated and purposeful pattern of retaliation that began when she objected to the sexually charged environment and conduct that permeated the department, on and off-duty, warned coworkers to watch out for certain officers and attempted to improve the department’s procedures and professionalism.

Higher ups in the department ordered others to “f…” with her, meaning make her life miserable, according to the suit.

As a result, Harrell claims, she was harassed, threatened, investigated and reinvestigated, called names, subjected to unwanted sexual advances, disciplined, shunned, admonished, punished, overworked to the point of exhaustion, wrongly accused of wrongdoing and ultimately fired.

The alleged overworking resulted in nearly $22,000 in overtime pay in 2015, according to official city records published by the nonprofit, Transparent California.

At the time of her termination in March 2016, Harrell had earned $127,400 in salary and overtime the year before and her compensation included another nearly $46,000 in city-paid benefits.

When Harrell complained internally about what she was being put through, her suit alleges, she received no support from the other high-ranking female on the force, former Police Chief Denise Turner, the department hierarchy or the city administration, the suit alleges.

Harrell’s civil suit alleges 13 counts of wrongdoing by the city and her union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME.

They include age and gender discrimination, sexual harassment, violations of federal civil rights laws, negligent infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, whistleblower retaliation and wrongful termination. The suit demands a trial by jury.

If even some of what Harrell alleges is true, it raises serious questions about a department whispered for years to be rife with sexual promiscuity and misconduct, and about what the city’s elected officials and administrators did or did not know and when, and about overall leadership, oversight, judgment and commitment to the law in the years leading up to Harrell’s dismissal.

Harrell, “loved helping the community and her peers,” according to the suit, and was Dispatcher of the Year in several years and recognized at the County and State level for her public safety work.”

And, she had an unblemished performance record with no discipline “until 2006, which the City of Gilroy later admitted was unwarranted.”

That discipline was meted out by former Police Chief Gregg Giusiana, who later apologized, according to the suit, and said he should have acted differently.

The suit describes Harrell as a “happily married” wife and mother who had known many of the police officers since they were kids.

Even some of them, the suit indicates, became part of the problem under pressure from their superiors.

The litany of alleged questionable sexual conduct by police and others in the suit is staggering. The lawsuit, which can be viewed at bit.ly/gpdsuit, also claims:

• Two officers, Geoff Guerin and Jesus Contreras, according to the suit, “had sexual intercourse with members of the Gilroy Explorers, comprised of youth ranging in age from fourteen (14) to twenty-one (21). When their conduct came to light, [one] was demoted, but then ‘got his stripes’ back, while [the other] was allowed to resign.” While the suit brackets the age range of the Explorer troop, it does not specifically accuse either of sex with a minor.

• “At office parties, GPD employees would throw their keys in a bowl and whoever pulled a key had sex with the person who owned the key.”

• The wife of an officer, who also was a department employee, proudly displayed her genital piercings to pool party guests. “By the swimming pool, Ms. [Andrea] Arthur boasted about a piercing on the clitoris of her vagina. When some asked to see it, she opened her wrap and spread her legs. Mortified, several women and children vacated the swimming pool.”

• Arhtur’s police officer husband, Officer Royce Heath, when they were engaged, “brought a Salinas police officer to ‘screw her’ while Heath watched. She later stated that she did not do it.”

• Arthur invited another officer to touch her breasts while they were in the Communications Center, and he did.

• Arhtur also “kept a book in which she documented all of the sexual improprieties that occurred at the GPD, so that she could reveal the information should she ever be disciplined for her misdeeds. [She stated] ‘If she goes down, other people are going down with her.’ Ms. Arthur also claimed that Officer Heath supported the fact that she was keeping a book documenting misdeeds.”

• At a Gilroy Police Officers’ Association Christmas party, “the female spouses [of two GPD officers] were outrageously intoxicated and were sexually touching both males and females including each other. Also, several people at the party were taking pictures of females exposing their private parts.”

• On a separate occasion, [an officer] showed sexually explicit photos that were inside a locker depicting GPD personnel groping [a communications staffer].”

• “For the first several years of his employment, [a male communications staffer] attempted to make sexual advances toward [Harrell] inviting her to come to his house…despite knowing [she] was married with 4 children.”

• The same man “engaged in sexual activity with other GPD officers and employees, and attempted to have sex with men by luring them to his house with the promise of ‘wild’ and ‘crazy’ women and alcohol. When women did not show up, [he] would tell the male guest, ‘Let’s get naked while we wait’.”

Other allegations involve both hetero- and homosexual liaisons, threats of physical harm, breakups or near breakups of marriages over sexual escapades and recruits in fear of losing their jobs caving into the pressure from above to participate in shunning Harrell.

“These are very serious allegations,” said Harrell’s attorney, Andrea Justo, of the Costanzo Law Firm in San Jose, on Monday. “We hope the City of Gilroy and the Gilroy Police Department take them seriously.” She called her client “A very loyal employee for over 20 years” and said the allegations, “span that amount of time.”

Asked whether allegations in the suit of “sexual assault” refer to criminal behavior by police officers, Justo said her firm represents Harrell in a wrongful termination lawsuit and that whether crimes were committed is for someone else to determine.

City officials keep quiet about suit

Human Resources Director LeeAnn McPhillips cited “pending litigation,” and declined comment.

Mayor Roland Velasco, who grew up in Gilroy, said he’d been emailed a copy of the suit and that McPhillips has advised him to decline comment on specifics of the suit.

Velasco described the allegations as Harrell’s “side of the story.”

He added, “I am confident that we have a police chief that will be able to…lead the department right now [and] at the end of the day the city of Gilroy is going to prevail.”

Velasco said no one has ever brought to his attention any matter involving sexual misconduct in the police department.

Several members of the department factor prominently in Harrell’s allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct and/or bullying retaliation and harassment.

One is for Royce Heath, on both counts.

Heath was promoted rapidly by former Chief Turner, who last year tapped him to be a captain.

Then, within a month of returning from retirement to take the chief’s position permanently, veteran GPD officer Scot Smithee learned something about Heath that caused him to suspend him in January of this year.

When he returned in May, Heath had been demoted to the lowest rank, officer.

Neither Smithee nor other city officials will say what got Heath into trouble.

He is pushing back against the demotion and his attorney is negotiating with the city while Heath has been placed on reduced duties.

Over the course of more than two years, Harrell sought the help of her union to work with the city on her job status, hired one and then another attorney, filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and did all she could to “come to some sort of a resolution that didn’t have to cost her job,” but was unsuccessful, Justo said.

Also named in the suit is Harrell’s union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME.

Harrell alleges that after agreeing to represent her in her job dispute with the city, the union then refused, thus failing in its responsibility to her as a member.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount in real and punitive damages.

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