State police major guilty of sexual harassment Disciplinary panel recommends demotion

June 28, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

The highest-ranking state police supervisor ever to be brought up on internal sexual harassment charges has been found guilty of making unwanted advances against six female troopers and one agency secretary, according to the department and sources familiar with the case.

A three-member internal disciplinary panel found that Maj. Edward E. "Earl" Dennis kissed, hugged and harassed the troopers and secretary while serving as a supervisor of the agency's high-profile Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement in Columbia.

The panel ruled that Dennis, a 22-year veteran, was guilty of sexual harassment and conduct unbecoming an officer, the agency said. The panel recommended that he be demoted, transferred from his post and ordered to undergo training, according to law enforcement sources and others close to the case.

State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell -- who took over the agency last year amid reports of widespread sexual harassment within the ranks -- will have 30 days to decide whether to accept the recommendation. He can also impose a tougher or less severe sanction.

For now, Dennis has been shifted to a desk job and banned from supervising employees.

"He's been relieved of his duties," said Capt. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman.

Dennis did not return messages left at his office yesterday. There was no answer at his home, and he did not respond to calls to his pager. His attorney said the claims had been taken out of context and his client had been wrongly accused.

"He's very disappointed," David L. Moore said.

A lawyer for two female troopers in the case said Dennis should be fired from the force.

"A ranking leader of the department was found guilty of sexually harassing numerous women," Kathleen M. Cahill said. "If he's not discharged for that, there's going to be some serious concerns among the women."

The internal panel handed down its ruling late Wednesday after four days of secret hearings at state police headquarters in Pikesville. The panel heard from several female troopers who said Dennis repeatedly gave them unwanted kisses and hugs in the workplace and played with the hair of at least one female employee against her will, according to the sources.

Some of the troopers testified before the panel. Others gave statements to internal affairs investigators, and those statements were introduced as evidence during the hearings. The women include four troopers who are still on the job, two who have since retired, and one secretary who works for the 1,540-officer agency, according to the sources and others familiar with the case.

The case started last year when Trooper Yolanda Stockton, 31, an eight-year veteran, complained about Dennis, 44. Internal affairs officers investigated and uncovered more sexual harassment complaints about the major. Other women then came forward to say they also had been harassed by Dennis.

During the hearings, some of the women said they were too afraid to testify against the major, one of the highest-ranking officers in the agency and the most senior trooper to be charged internally with harassment. Only four state police officers hold a higher rank.

After finding Dennis guilty, the panel recommended that he be demoted and transferred, but it did not specify how many ranks he should lose. Dennis makes $67,766 a year. A demotion of one rank to captain would mean an annual loss of about $5,000.

Dennis' attorney said his client will wait until after Mitchell makes his final ruling in the case before deciding whether to appeal to Circuit Court. Moore said the charges were old, dating back as far as 1983, and they surfaced only after an employment dispute at the agency was not resolved in favor of one of the accusers.

Even though Dennis is deeply disappointed by the decision, Moore said, his client is mindful of the political climate at the agency, where many supervisors are being ordered to focus on ways to stop and punish sexual harassment.

"He's at the wrong place at the wrong time," Moore said.

Less than two years ago, The Sun published articles that described widespread harassment at the agency. Female troopers said complaints were poorly handled, if they were handled at all. When they did complain, they said, their supervisors retaliated, giving them undesirable shifts and dangerous assignments.

A series of federal sexual harassment lawsuits filed by three troopers were settled last year by the agency.

Pub Date: 6/28/96

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