Howard Week

December 26, 2004

Officer's suit alleges sexual harassment by county police

A female Howard County police officer is charging in a federal lawsuit that a male "locker room"-dominated culture is tolerated by county police, replete with pornography displayed on work computers, sexual insults and harassment for women who complain.

The civil rights discrimination suit, filed in October in U.S. District Court in Baltimore by Susan Ensko, a 15-year officer, names as defendants Howard County, Police Chief Wayne Livesay, Sgt. Paul Steppe and Officer Perry Sauers.

The suit is similar to one filed by retired Cpl. Linda Freeman that led to a $115,000 settlement payment last spring. Ensko is seeking $500,000 in damages and an injunction ordering a halt to the behavior.

Ensko filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in October 2003 and received a notice of right to sue July 30. Only after the EEOC filing did the department act to file administrative charges against Steppe and Sauers, her suit claims.

Both men and Ensko remain on active duty.

Lawyers representing the county, Livesay and the officers have asked that the suit be dismissed on grounds that it is based on "isolated, stale co-worker comments," that Livesay never harassed anyone and that some accusations are vague on timing.

Harriet E. Cooperman, lawyer for the two police officers, said, "I don't think she has a claim against my two clients. Her suit is vague, ambiguous. My clients deny all allegations. I think it should be thrown out."

Horizon Foundation to give $1.5 million to 69 groups

With nonprofit groups still worried about lower donations from state government and the United Way, Columbia's Horizon Foundation has announced 69 grants totaling $1.5 million for public and private agencies throughout Howard County.

The grants are intended to help organizations expand their capacity to help people, especially those with health-related problems, said Horizon President and Chief Executive Officer Richard M. Krieg.

The $1.5 million is a large amount for Horizon to give out at one time, Krieg said, noting that the foundation has granted about $12 million in aid since it was started in 1998. Krieg said the foundation has increased its endowment from $68 million to $76 million in that time through good investments.

Krieg said he is "guardedly optimistic" about funding for nonprofits in 2005 because the economy seems a bit better than last year and the state's budget woes have eased.

Horizon, which resulted from the merger of Howard County General Hospital with Johns Hopkins Medicine, is giving its largest single grant - $301,500 - to Howard County's Office on Aging for development of an automated information and referral system for seniors and the disabled and to help older people manage chronic diseases.

Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center got two grants totaling $55,000 to help run this winter's cold-weather shelter and to plan for ways to increase the number of beds for homeless people in the county.

Students' report favors widening of Route 32

Nine years of controversy has produced a small mountain of reports on the state's proposal to widen Route 32. Last week, the pile grew by another 62 pages.

The newest study, however, did not come from a state agency pushing for the project, nor from residents bitterly opposing it. The policy analysis was done by graduate students at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who claim at least one advantage over other studies: lack of bias.

"We don't live in the area," said Ben Lloyd. "None of us had a stake in widening Route 32 or not."

Controversy has hung over Route 32 since 1995, when the state began studying widening the nine-mile stretch between Route 108 and Interstate 70. Residents believe the project would cause sprawl in their neighborhoods. State officials argue it is the best way to relieve congestion and increase safety.

In the report, the students concluded in favor of the state's proposal to widen Route 32 from two lanes to four. The recommendation comes with a caveat, however. If decision-makers consider the cost and the matters of sprawl, noise and the environment of greater significance than the issue of congestion on Route 32, the students recommended keeping the road two lanes but making it a limited-access highway with additional interchanges.

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