Suit claims police ignored harassment

February 05, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A woman who claims a former county police officer raped her during a traffic stop two years ago filed a $70 million suit yesterday, alleging police were so tolerant of sexual harassment that it endangered women throughout the county.

The 24-year-old Glen Burnie woman alleges that Officer Michael Ziegler stopped her in Pasadena Nov. 15, 1990, told her she was drunk and couldn't drive, took her to a dark parking lot in his squad car and raped her on the front seat.

She "was so shocked and so horrified by the conduct that she was unable to speak or resist," the suit says.

According to the suit, the officer then drove her to the house in Crofton where she then lived. She immediately reported the attack, the suit says.

"Upon investigation, it was disclosed that the plaintiff's handbag was found in the defendant's patrol car and that semen stains were present in the front of his patrol car," the suit says.

The suit, which seeks $60 million in compensatory and punitive damages, casts a net beyond Mr. Ziegler, who was convicted of misconduct in office by a Circuit Court judge and agreed to resign in 1991. It alleges that department supervisors tolerated sexual harassment to such an extent that it developed into a pattern, so officers were allowed to get away with harassing women for at least a decade.

The suit names as co-defendants former Police Chief George W. Wellham III and "unknown and undetermined supervisory personnel."

It notes that another woman accused Mr. Ziegler of raping her when she sought police help at her apartment in 1984, and that yet another woman complained that he had failed to write a report when she reported a rape to him.

"In the wake of the defendant Officer Ziegler's case," the suit says, "four civilian women complained that a 24-year veteran and then present captain of the police training academy had either raped, assaulted, sexually harassed or exposed himself to them."

It further alleges other women complained about harassment by another captain, two sergeants and at least two other officers.

Since last February, nine women have filed sexual harassment charges against five officers.

Capt. Richard Smith was fined $5,000 last August after he pleaded guilty to departmental charges of sexual harassment and other conduct violations. The plea came a week before he was scheduled to go before a departmental hearing board on charges that he sexually harassed two female civilian employees between 1989 and spring of last year.

Capt. Don F. Ward retired in April amid similar complaints.

A police department spokesman denied there is a department-wide problem.

"I wouldn't say there's been a pattern, I'd say that in each case where there's been a finding of wrongful conduct, the chief has taken appropriate action whenever possible," said Sgt. Mark Howes. "It's more a case of isolated incidents than a department problem."

The department employs 554 sworn officers and 250 civilians.

Mr. Ziegler, 42, an 18-year veteran, initially was charged with rape, but agreed to resign in March 1991 after the rape charge was dropped and he was left facing a lesser charge of police misconduct. He was convicted by Anne Arundel Circuit Judge )) Raymond G. Thieme Jr.

Mr. Ziegler was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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