Another former Lincoln Police officer is leveling allegations of years of on-the-job sexual discrimination and the systematic ousting of those who report it in a lawsuit filed this week.
Angela Sands had been with the Lincoln Police Department for nearly 10 years, most recently as a sergeant, before she was terminated in December 2021.
She said Wednesday she continues to move forward with legal complaints, as eight of her colleagues — two at Lincoln Fire and Rescue and six at LPD — also have done, "because in order to affect long-term change we need to hold abusers and leadership accountable to those they serve. Our officers, and the citizens of Lincoln, deserve better.”
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In the lawsuit, she said LPD's hostility toward her has continued, pointing to a decision on her pension application languishing and a call to 911 about a neighbor threatening to kill her and others left unanswered for nearly two hours.
The city hasn't yet responded to the complaint. On Tuesday, Chief Assistant City Attorney Chris Connolly said only: "We are aware of the lawsuit but have no comment at this time."
Police Chief Teresa Ewins, who faces criticism in the lawsuit for allegedly allowing it to continue and even promoting those accused of wrongdoing, issued a written statement.
"The city of Lincoln and the Lincoln Police Department do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind," Ewins said in a written statement. "We have strong anti-discrimination policies and work continuously to foster an inclusive and safe workplace for all members. We take all complaints, external or internal, seriously. We recognize and support the right of everyone to have their case judged through the court system."
At a news conference in December, Ewins touted the progress LPD had made in its efforts to fulfill recommended changes made by an independent firm that surveyed employees, assessed the department and issued a report in September following a series of allegations of wrongdoing by current and former officers.
In the 96-page lawsuit, Sands' attorney, Kelly Brandon, alleged LPD targeted Sands and others for termination for reporting sexual harassment and discrimination within the department.
She said out of the four women who filed charges of discrimination and met with Mayor Leirion Gaylor-Baird to discuss sexism at the department in January 2021, only one remains employed at LPD.
In fact, at least a half dozen officers faced discipline — including internal affairs investigations, suspensions and firings — after making formal complaints.
Brandon said Sands and her fellow female officers at LPD were subjected to a work environment "so permeated with misogyny that any ordinary person would assume LPD was purposefully excluding women from the police force by making conditions intolerable for them."
She alleged officers at every rank expressed misogyny in myriad of ways.
Among them: sexual and sexist jokes; rape and other sexual assaults; discussions about sexual conquests; excluding women from particular assignments; comments expressing the belief that women don’t belong or aren’t capable; sexual propositions; reacting to the rejection of such propositions with anger and/or violence; referring to women with sexualized gender slurs; attacking the competence and integrity of women who have reported sexual assaults, harassment or discrimination; and the refusal to provide back-up and other police protection to women who have complained.
Brandon said when officers raised concerns or complaints, the complaining officer would face discipline or backlash.
Tonya Peters, LPD's legal advisor, and others in the department have called reported incidents of sexual misconduct "urban legends," she said.
"By consistently punishing officers who objected, while at the same time fashioning escape hatches to facilitate smooth departures for its worst offenders, LPD leadership supported, reinforced and perpetuated the rampant sexism and hostile work environment within the department," Brandon said.
She said LPD’s pattern of preferring assailants over victims sent a clear message to anyone who would complain: "Keep quiet and accept the status quo, or you will forfeit your career."
Specifically, the complaint alleges that:
* A female sergeant encouraged her not to make a formal complaint after a fellow trainee told her she had a "dusty uterus" and joked about her age.
* Then-Chief Jim Peschong told Sands to see a psychologist in the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting where she and another officer were shot because she was "more emotional" than the other male officers involved.
* An unnamed fellow male officer (who no longer works at LPD) groped Sands' butt and breasts at an outing to support him following a shooting incident in 2016.
* Yohance Christie, then a deputy public defender, sent Sands sexually charged texts in 2017 asking her to send him nude photos of herself, despite it being against city policy for public defenders to date police personnel. In 2020, he became city attorney, the agency responsible for defending the city in lawsuits like the one Sands has filed.
* A sergeant (who since has retired) in 2020 made sexually inappropriate comments about the gap between Sands' teeth, caused by the on-duty shooting in 2015 and kissed her neck without her consent while playing trivia with other officers while off-duty earlier that year.
* Two male officers received only a verbal reprimand after starting a rumor that Sands provided sexual favors to get her promotion to sergeant.
More generically, Brandon said throughout Sands' career she saw male officers make light of rape investigations, looking up driver's licenses of rape victims to assess whether they were sufficiently attractive to be "rape-able," or access driver's license photos or body cam footage of attractive women they had encountered on traffic stops for no legitimate reason.
She alleged that LPD command staff had received "credible evidence" indicating male officers had planted drugs on confidential informants to extort them into providing the officers with sexual favors.
In a statement Wednesday, Sands said she chose the career of service intentionally to contribute to the safety and wellbeing of Lincoln.
"I loved being a police officer and found a lot of personal satisfaction providing support and a safe space to women in our community," she said.
But she no longer feels LPD is a safe place for officers. For years, Sands said she and her peers have raised numerous concerns that largely have gone unaddressed by leadership. And it has direct consequences on public safety, she said.
"If police officers, firefighters and other first responders aren’t safe on the job, how can our community have confidence when they seek help in emergency situations?" Sands said.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @LJSpilger