Police sergeant found innocent in sexual harassment case

Western District officer back on job after hearing

May 05, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police sergeant was found innocent yesterday of sexually harassing several officers under his command after a four-day administrative hearing peppered with graphic testimony.

A panel of three police officials -- a sergeant, a lieutenant and a major -- deliberated for four hours before clearing Sgt. Robert Richards on all counts, enabling him to return to street duty.

"He's a happy man," said his lawyer, Michael Davey, who works for the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3. Of the department's case against his client, Davey said: "There was nothing there."

Davey said his client "was able to explain every one of his actions. We were able to prove that none of his actions had anything to do with harassment or retaliation."

Sean Malone, the chief legal counsel for the Police Department, said he did his job by prosecuting Richards, whose accusers included secretaries and officers in the Western District, where Richards worked.

"The department accepts the findings of the trial board," Malone said. "As is the department's policy, we will continue to investigate and prosecute allegations of sexual harassment and racial harassment with vigor. This is an example of how the internal discipline process should work."

The department charged Richards with 13 counts of sexual harassment and two counts of neglect of duty. A conviction on any of the harassment charges could have cost the eight-year veteran his job.

Officer Pamela Walker testified that Richards exposed himself to her and propositioned her during a visit to her new house, and later subjected her to gropings, improper remarks and unfair treatment. Several other women testified that they were subjected to similar treatment.

Walker could not be reached yesterday to comment.

The board that cleared Richards was headed by Maj. Robert Biemiller and included Lt. Glenn D. Williams and Sgt. Leslie Banks. More than 35 witnesses, including Richards, testified during the public hearing.

Richards, who declined to comment yesterday, has alleged that the charges filed against him were in retaliation for a multimillion-dollar discrimination suit he filed in federal court against the city in 1996.

Both sides are in settlement talks. But depositions exposed severe racial problems on the force, prompted unprecedented testimony from the former mayor and caused upheaval when a black colonel called then-Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier a racist.

The issue of race was central in testimony in the four-day hearing. Walker testified that she was afraid to file charges against Richards, a black colleague, because of his strong political connections in the city's African-American community.

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