State police major is fired High-ranking boss convicted in June of sexual harassment

Proposed demotion rejected

7 female victims satisfied with ruling from superintendent

July 30, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Maryland State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell yesterday fired a major who was convicted by an administrative board last month of sexually harassing six female troopers and a departmental secretary, going beyond the panel's recommendation that he just be demoted.

Maj. Edward E. "Earl" Dennis Jr., 44, the highest- ranking state police supervisor ever to be charged with sexual harassment, served in the Bureau of Drug and Criminal Enforcement in Columbia. A 22-year veteran, Dennis had been accused of exposing himself to a female trooper in his office, hugging and kissing other female troopers against their will and repeatedly running his fingers through the hair of the secretary.

Late yesterday afternoon, Mitchell released a terse two-paragraph statement announcing his decision. "Effective immediately, Major Dennis has been dismissed from service with the Maryland State Police," part of the statement says.

Mitchell, through his spokesman, Capt. Greg Shipley, declined further comment, saying it was inappropriate to discuss such administrative matters in detail. "The colonel made his decision regarding the discipline and this is what it is," Shipley said.

The proposed demotion had angered the victims, who believed Dennis should have been fired. Yesterday, they felt that justice had been done.

"The punishment meets the crime," said attorney Kathleen Cahill, who represents two of the female troopers.

Mitchell took over the state police last year with a pledge to end sexual harassment at the agency. He issued a new policy last May that included new harassment reporting procedures and the hiring of an outside consultant to devise sensitivity training for all employees.

"Sexual harassment, in any form, will not be tolerated with the Maryland State Police," Mitchell said when he issued the policy.

By firing Dennis, the state police superintendent overruled a three-member panel that convicted Dennis of the sexual harassment charges on June 27. That panel recommended that Dennis be demoted one rank, transferred from his high-profile post and ordered to take part in a sensitivity training program, rather than be fired from the force.

Dennis did not return a phone message last night at his home. His attorney, David L. Moore, could not be reached last night.

Moore had earlier said that his client had been wrongly accused and that the claims against him had been taken out of context.

Trooper Yolanda D. Stockton first complained about Dennis to a friend on the force, and that conversation eventually sparked the investigation in which others came forward.

Had Mitchell accepted the administrative board's recommendation, Dennis would have gotten off too lightly, Stockton said. "I didn't think it was stiff enough," she said yesterday. "There were just too many women who came forth."

Dennis' firing was "the appropriate thing to do, with all the allegations that were sustained," she said. "Now, I'm hoping to go on with my career and get it past me. And if there are any troopers out there who are sexually harassing women, this should be a wake-up call for them."

Cahill said Mitchell's action seems to signal that he is serious about his stand against sexual harassment. Cahill also represented three female troopers who filed suit in June 1994 against the Maryland State Police alleging sexual harassment and discrimination. Those suits were settled out of court, but none of the troopers named in the suits was ever disciplined.

"I can say that Dennis has been treated significantly differently than were the serious offenders in the prior litigation, who were not disciplined one iota -- which I think is still astonishing," Cahill said. "So if you compare what happened to Dennis with what happened to those involved in the prior litigation, there's clearly a contrast. Hopefully, that's a sign of historical change."

TC Susan Smith, who received a settlement in the earlier litigation after alleging she had been harassed by one of her bosses, said yesterday she is still aggravated nothing was ever done to those troopers. In that case, Smith told the administrative board that Dennis gave her an unwanted kiss on the lips.

"As far as Dennis, my involvement with the case was very minor," Smith said. She added that his firing seems to be a step forward for the state police in dealing with sexual harassment. "I think they're making an example out of him," she said. "I think if they do something to him, there will probably be far less problems."

The state police panel held four days of hearings at the agency's Pikesville headquarters last month before reaching its decision. The panel issued a 37-page report saying that Dennis touched a breast of one female trooper and placed his tongue in her ear. One of the earlier and most serious incidents reportedly occurred in a patrol car in 1982, when he allegedly harassed a female trooper who had just graduated from the academy and been assigned to work with Dennis in Glen Burnie.

At the administrative hearing, the woman testified that Dennis took her hand and placed it "on his pants, over his penis." She also told the board that Dennis pinched her buttocks and touched her breasts on at least 20 different occasions. And while she was working with Dennis at the drug enforcement unit in Columbia, he exposed himself to her, she said.

Dennis told the board that the woman was a flirt who was continually inquiring about the size of his penis. He said that he placed the woman's hand on his thigh that day in the patrol car and said, "This is as close as you're going to get," the report said.

Dennis also denied exposing himself, saying that he did pull down his zipper, but nothing more.

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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