‘Women Do Not Belong in Police Work’

THREE REMAINING SEXUAL HARASSMENT SUITS NEAR SETTLEMENT 

By STEVEN TAVARES

SLPD LAWSUITS Little has been publicly reported about the seven female San Leandro police officers who sued the city for sexual harassment last year. Until now, the public awareness of the complaints filed in 2009 began and ended with reports of a settlement with four of the officers totalling over $400,000. The city council Monday night will likely announce details of the remaining three suits, one of which acted as the pivot point linking all the others. Officials from the San Leandro Police Department and city have declined to speak on the subject at this time for legally reasons. What follows is accounts taken from complaints filed in U.S. District Court in and around August 2009. This article is an excerpt from a longer piece on the San Leandro Police Department’s workplace.

Officer Catherine Pickard joined the San Leandro Police Department in 1991. She floated around as a dispatcher for five years until becoming a cop in 1996. A year later, Pickard graduated from the police academy with honors; being named valedictorian. It looked like she was on the fast-track to a long, successful career in law enforcement, but things don’t always go as planned.

After 17 years at the SLPD in one position or another, she was pushing 40, unmarried and looking for promotion from the job she had more than satisfactorily performed for the past decade, except the same unfair hurdles many successful women are forced to endure these days because of their gender also presented themselves at the police department.

Pickard and the six other police officers alleged sexual harassment in the workplace, but the real problem was derived from a spate of in-house female candidates being passed over for promotion to lieutenant, but the two went hand in hand. One of the central questions is how did the police department become this toxic environment for ambitious women officers and did it only begin with the previous chief Dale Attarian. The former police chief is named as a co-defendant along with Sgt. DeWayne Stancill, in all seven suits. Stancill is the father of the young man recently sentenced to 40 years in prison for murdering a San Leandro High School student and currently suing the city in a sidebar to the current sexual harassment suits.

“Women do not belong in police work” was uttered, at minimum, over 50 times by male supervisors, including her own (Stancill) and male officers over the last 10 years. 

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Pickard was promoted to officer under Capt. Joe Kitchens, who would later become police chief and precede Attarian, but not without the seeds of future problems first being sown. Ktichens told Pickard during the early hiring process, the department was not looking for her “demographic.” She issued a complaint over her “unequal treatment.” She would eventually get the job. In another of the seven suits, the phrase “demographic” is also used within the context of the hiring process and is believed to be a reference to gender. At the time of the filings, seven female officers out of roughly 100-member force existed. None of the seven women held rank higher than officer.

At times, the SLPD exhibited attitudes and actions more befitting a frat house than a workplace designed to fight crime. Pickard and the others were viewed as inhibiting the inclination towards a boys-will-be-boys atmosphere. After her transfer to the detective division, Pickard was ignored by her colleagues and “observed a separation between herself and the men in the unit.” She was excluded from search warrants and generally relegated to secondary roles. Her opinions and suggestions were routinely silenced to the point she recruited other officers to offer her opinions through their voices. “[The] Plaintiff was ostracized by the males in the unit, including the supervisors, for having spoken up,” the suits claims. The wall of miscommunication had been built to the point male officers would abruptly quit conversations when she entered a room.

Pickard says she was subjected to sexual advances by fellow male officers throughout her employment starting with her training for officer in the late 1990s. A SLPD male field officer invited Pickard to have drinks with him off-duty during the time he was training her saying, “it would benefit her evaluations for her position.” She declined.

When she was not wearing her dress jacket at work, she says she was subjected to comments from male officers about the size of her breasts and constant ogling, which made her feel “uncomfortable and different from the other members.” Other plaintiffs described similar comments made by male officers, including Stancill, who told another female officer, among other things, her “jeans fit just right,” in addition, to asking another of the plaintiffs if he could see her breasts.

Pornographic magazines and videos were commonplace at the SLPD along with graphic emails disseminated through the city’s servers. The complaint from Pickard and many of the other plaintiffs reference this assertion as evidence of a work environment skewed towards juvenile and unprofessional conduct. Officers “routinely” perused pornography on the job in her presence. Others found magazines lying in restrooms and left in squad cars as late as two years ago.

According to the complaint, officers sending offensive and demeaning emails using the city’s computer servers was a common and long-standing practice at the department going back over 10 years. Photos of naked women and videos featuring bestiality were forwarded around the department within a “mail all” distribution method. Pickard says the police chief at the time, Dale Attarian, was fully aware of the emails. She alleges seeing Attarian’s name as a recipient on many of the emails.

The alleged hostility towards women in the SLPD lands on the feet of Attarian according to all seven of the lawsuits against the city. Attarian quietly retired from the force last year. Instead of hiring an outsider to take over the SLPD, City Manager Stephen Hollister, a former member of law enforcement himself, tabbed in-house candidate Ian Willis as chief.

Pickard asserts the “locker room comments and opinions” of her co-workers and supervisors forced her to understand she had to conform to the male-dominated environment if she wished to survive at the department. Pickard makes possibly the most explosive charge of any of the seven female officers when she says the phrase, “Women do not belong in police work” was uttered, at minimum, over 50 times by male supervisors, including her own (Stancill) and male officers over the last 10 years.

The suit also alleges Attarian was aware of the ant-woman bias in his department and says an outside investigative contractor hired by the city found the claims presented by Pickard and other plaintiffs had merit, but recommendations made to Attarian and the city were ignored. Instead, after Attarian learned of the seven suits against him and the department, he framed the development as the female officers forming a conspiracy against him. He then assigned Sgt. Stancill, who the suits allege had a cozy relationship with Attarian, to supervisor Pickard. This arrangement placed the victim with the alleged aggressor as supervisor in a workplace environment.

Of the seven lawsuits filed by the female San Leandro police officers, Pickard’s stands as the center of the wheel where the other six spokes meet. How did seven women come together with similar allegations against law enforcement’s top brass?

From 2004-2008, Pickard represented members of the police offers union against the the SLPD and the city regarding disciplinary and grievance procedures. At her position, Pickard, who, herself felt the brunt of workplace sexual harassment, began to hear numerous stories and anecdotes featuring similar events with other female officers on the force. In December 2007, one of the six other future plaintiffs against the SLPD reported instances of sexual harassment from Stancill and was being investigated for her response to one of his comments.

By February 2008, three months after the first of the seven plaintiffs first issued official  complaints against Stancill and Attarian, three had resigned from the force stemming either from specific instances of sexual harassment or the general atmosphere of anti-female attitudes prevalent within the department.

Pickard’s knowledge of the details of other complaints made Attarian nervous. She was ordered under the threat of termination from Attarian and through a second outside investigator hired by the city to give up the names of all individuals who spoke to her regarding all allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. In addition, Pickard alleges the SLPD and the city infringed on her civil rights by Attarian’s order along with future chief Ian Willis, who she alleges told her to not speak about the investigation when she believed the inquiry and recommendations had been completed nearly two months before. The basis of civil rights was later mocked by Attarian and Stancill in June 2008 when Pickard complained Stancill came to work wearing a t-shirt with the word “ACQUITTED” embroidered across his chest. Attarian ruled Stancill could wear the offending shirt on the basis of freedom of speech. Stancill’s affinity for making editorial comments through slogans continued when he placed a small plaque on his work desk saying, “Succes is the Best Revenge.”

Stancill no longer works for the SLPD and has a racial harassment suit pending against the city. Attarian retired in early 2009. The city previously announced the settlement of four of the seven lawsuits filed by female members of the SLPD totalling $405,000. The three lawsuits remaining, including Pickard, will be discussed in closed session during tonight’s city council meeting. Updates on the lawsuits, likely involving settlements will be announced afterwards.

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