Former state police sergeant recalls the high price she paid for complaining FEMALE TROOPERS AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT

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

State police Sgt. Sherry Bosley seemed to have it all. One of the few female sergeants on the force, she was a tenacious officer, a one-time "Trooper of the Year" in her division, a gambling expert for the agency.

But she says her career -- and the career of a male colleague -- started to crumble after she complained about sexual harassment within the agency.

Rumors of sexual liaisons shadowed her, she says. She encountered retaliation from the agency's highest levels. And at her lowest point, she considered committing suicide at the state police firing range.

Sergeant Bosley's case illustrates the pressures felt by state police officers who confront alleged harassment head-on. And it demonstrates just how emotionally damaging the search for relief can be.

Now 40, Ms. Bosley speaks in soft, measured tones about her 12-year tenure at the police agency. For years, the Bel Air resident says, she never complained about the behavior of some of her male colleagues and supervisors.

She says she didn't complain when a supervisor requested hugs and kisses rather than salutes.

Or when a trooper slammed his fist through a wall inches from her head when he heard she had been promoted to corporal.

Or when a male supervisor wanted to know how she would respond if she were raped, then grabbed her in a squad car.

"I thought I could prove myself," says Ms. Bosley, who wears her brown hair short and her neatly pressed blouses buttoned to the top. "I didn't want to alienate anyone, particularly other troopers. During my career, there were women who would speak out. Then you would become one of those women. I didn't want that to happen."

But that's exactly what happened, she says.

The trouble started in 1991, after 11 years on the force. She says a supervisor, Lt. Fred Davis, rekindled rumors that she was having an affair with one of her colleagues.

Settling a score

She says Lieutenant Davis -- a veteran of 30 years who recently won the Republican nomination for sheriff of Charles County -- was settling an old score.

In 1982, Sergeant Bosley and another female trooper were assigned to an undercover operation -- investigating claims that the lieutenant had ties to drug traffickers, according to a court document and three officers in the case.

They never substantiated the claims. No charges were filed.

But Sergeant Bosley and the other trooper later were assigned to work in the same division as Lieutenant Davis. By then, Ms. Bosley says, he knew all about their role in the undercover probe.

To retaliate, she says, Lieutenant Davis tried to destroy her credibility -- spreading sexual rumors about her and Trooper Don Newcomer, the godfather of her two children and a friend of her husband. Mr. Newcomer, who has since retired from the force, says he and Sergeant Bosley were partners for years and best friends. In 1991, she says, Lieutenant Davis and other supervisors started questioning her -- and officers she supervised -- about her fidelity.

Lieutenant Davis declined to comment. "We'll be able to tell our side of the story when it comes to court," he says, referring to a $2 million lawsuit Ms. Bosley has filed against the agency.

Spreading rumors

Frustrated, Sergeant Bosley turned to agency supervisors for help.

She asked Maj. John Cook to stop her superiors from spreading the rumors, she says. She also told the major that Lieutenant Davis kept a statue of a penis on his desk, which she considered offensive. She also told him that another trooper kept a framed photo of a naked woman striking an explicit pose on his desk.

When the rumors, the crude comments and the speculation about her personal life continued, she went to internal affairs, she says. She told Capt. John Howard, then the commander of the unit, that she wanted to file a complaint.

But he had some unsettling advice, she says. "He said it would be treated like a rape trial. I would have to be the one who was put on trial."

Captain Howard declined to talk about the case.

Sergeant Bosley later filed the complaint. "Then everything went downhill," she says.

She received obscene phone calls at home, she says. She was becoming an outcast and was growing increasingly despondent.

For help, she turned to Doug DeLeaver, a former state police lieutenant who was assigned to handle employee disputes.

"She was an excellent officer," Mr. DeLeaver says. "She writes well. She speaks well. She was always prim and proper."

But the day she visited him, Mr. DeLeaver says Sergeant Bosley was shaken.

"All she wanted was an apology," he says. "She didn't want any money. She wanted somebody to say, 'I'm sorry. It's not going to happen again.' "

Sergeant Bosley also asked to see Elmer H. Tippett, who ran the agency at the time. "When I went there, there were eight people in the room," she says. "I was shocked because I expected a private meeting. He said, 'If you want to meet with me, you'll have to do it with all these people.' "

Planning to pull the trigger

She walked out, she says.

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