Female troopers say tormentors wore badges FEMALE TROOPERS AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT

October 09, 1994|By Scott Higham and Marcia Myers | Scott Higham and Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writers

In Somerset County, a Maryland State Police officer corners Trooper Kate Flanagan in an office, grabs the back of her trousers and yanks up on her underwear, laughing and refusing to let go, she says.

At a barracks in Charles County, a male officer approaches Trooper Linda Lozier from behind, licks her neck, rubs his crotch against her and forces her face down onto a table, demanding sex, she says.

During a break outside an Eastern Shore field office, Trooper Susan Smith says, a state police supervisor tells her -- in front of the squad -- to perform oral sex on each of her co-workers.

These accounts -- disputed by the men involved -- are among a series of sexual harassment complaints detailed in department reports, court records and interviews with dozens of current and former state police officers. The officers say the problem is widespread, despite the agency's public pronouncements against harassment and discrimination.

Female troopers say complaints are poorly investigated. Discipline is rarely doled out. And those who blow the whistle are labeled "rats" and "snitches." They say they face almost certain retaliation -- the worst shifts, the loneliest assignments and calls to dangerous situations without backups.

"When I joined, I wanted to do something with my life," said Trooper Smith, a 28-year-old drug officer. "I wanted to look back on my life, be proud and be able to tell my kids. But they don't respect women. They took every bit of self-esteem I had, and they ripped it to shreds."

This year, three troopers -- two women and a man -- filed suits in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, claiming the police agency violated federal laws that shield workers from sexual harassment and retaliation. While the cases await trial, troopers are beginning to speak publicly about episodes they say have been kept secret for years.

Among them: persistent sexual come-ons by male supervisors, pornographic photographs and cartoons on the walls of state offices, and threats of violence against those who complain, according to court records and interviews.

The Sun interviewed three dozen current and former troopers and administrators, both male and female, including some of the first women to join the force and others who worked their way up the ranks. Most say they were either victims of harassment or witnessed harassment against colleagues. The harassment ranged from off-color jokes and crude remarks, to personal threats and advances bordering on sexual assault.

It doesn't happen everywhere, troopers say. Some women say they spent years on the job without being harassed or witnessing harassment until they were assigned to work in a particular barracks or with a certain supervisor or colleague. When it did happen, the response from ranking state police officers remained the same -- the complaints were largely ignored, they say.

Here are how some recent sexual harassment claims were handled, according to records and interviews:

* Of nine harassment complaints investigated by internal affairs officers since 1989, four were referred for disciplinary action to state police trial boards, agency records show. In the two cases that have been heard, the sexual harassment complaints were dismissed.

* Several women who filed the complaints say they suffered retaliation -- bad work evaluations, transfers, threatening phone calls and rumors about their personal lives.

* Even though women represent 8 percent of the force, state police supervisors acknowledge that they never have chosen a female trooper to be a member of a trial board hearing a sexual harassment case.

"It's a very hostile environment for women," says Dr. Stephen Curran, who resigned last year after providing psychological services to the agency for nearly a decade. "I was ringing a loud bell that there were problems. Personally, I had enough of it."

State Police Superintendent Larry W. Tolliver says he can't be held responsible for incidents that occurred before he took over the agency in 1992. A defendant in all three federal lawsuits, he declined to discuss specific cases, but said he treats sexual harassment claims seriously.

"I feel that for anyone on the job, everything should be fair and equitable," Colonel Tolliver says. "We're trying to treat females fairly and my tenure reflects that. I will take severe action against people who violate our regulations."

The agency's second highest-ranking officer, 32-year veteran Lt. Col. James Harvey, says women always have been welcomed by their male colleagues.

"I just know that the agency doesn't tolerate any type of harassment," he said, adding that he hasn't heard many complaints while speaking to female troopers. "I don't think it's possible. Not only do I visit these folks frequently, so does the superintendent."

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