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Female officers involved in lawsuits against LPD facing discipline, including suspensions and firings
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Female officers involved in lawsuits against LPD facing discipline, including suspensions and firings

From the What you missed this week in notable Southeast Nebraska crimes and court cases series
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Female officers at the Lincoln Police Department who have sued the city or who are in the initial stages of litigation have faced discipline — including internal affairs investigations, suspensions and firings — after making formal complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination.

One of the officers, who spoke to the Journal Star on condition of anonymity, said after years on the force without a single internal affairs complaint, suddenly she found herself the subject of multiple investigations.

All coming within a few short months of Police Chief Teresa Ewins' arrival in Lincoln.

The officer said she felt confident at the start, because she knew she'd done nothing wrong. But it ended up feeling like a "witch hunt."

"I do think she's trying to get rid of all of the women involved," she said of Ewins, who didn't respond to an email seeking comment.

Coming forward about allegations of employment discrimination and harassment is protected under federal law.

One by one, the officer went through the names of women in the department who have sued or made formal complaints referenced in the lawsuits and the disciplinary actions they now are facing.

One had a suspension or termination hearing last week. Another, who has been suspended without pay pending the investigation and had her badge and firearm taken from her, could face a suspension or termination hearing as early as next week. 

Two others are currently under investigation.

Ex-Lincoln officer suing city, alleging toxic culture toward women within police department

Meanwhile, the male officers accused of sending unsolicited, graphic photos to female officers, groping or in two cases sexually assaulting fellow officers have faced no apparent consequences, she said.

"It's such a mess," the officer said.

Officer Brad Hulse, president of the Lincoln Police Union, said he's not privy to all the investigations and personnel actions that have happened or are going on.

“Obviously," he said, "there are some officers that feel that they have been wronged or that something has gone on. And they have made complaints about it."

Hulse said when the allegations came up publicly in a post to the Nebraska politics website Seeing Red, it was concerning to read, but it seemed one-sided. He said Ewins only has been here for a short time. So he doesn't buy the idea that she is disciplining these employees over lawsuits they've filed.

"I can’t see any chief of police or any other administrator being that blind to the repercussions of such actions," Hulse said.

He said there may have been performance issues that were occurring and are just now being addressed.

A year ago, allegations first came to light when Sarah Williams, a former LPD officer, filed the first of two civil lawsuits in U.S. District Court against the city after she left for a job with Omaha Police.

Second Lincoln police officer sues city, alleging hostile work environment for women

Melissa Ripley filed the second suit earlier this year. 

In both, they alleged a toxic culture toward women within the department and retaliation against those who report it.

Both women's attorney, Kelly Brandon, said in the lawsuit that when Williams raised concerns to supervisors all the way up to then-Chief Jeff Bliemeister, nothing was done. And that Williams was pressured to name the female officer who told her she'd been sexually assaulted by a male in the department, while LPD did nothing to investigate it.

On Monday, the Lincoln City Council is set to consider a financial settlement with Williams.

When asked what steps, if any, the city is taking to look into the latest allegations and how seriously it's taking them, City Attorney Yohance Christie said Saturday he was unable to talk about personnel matters.

"However, no one is targeting female officers who have come forward," he said.

Ewins, who started work in Lincoln on Aug. 30, has not publicly addressed the allegations since the Seeing Red report surfaced.

Internal investigations at LPD by their nature are confidential, making it impossible for outsiders to review the information independently unless the matters result in lawsuits or go to trial.

The female officer who talked to the Journal Star fears losing her job and said things haven't gotten any better for women at LPD since Williams left in March 2019. It's still difficult to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct without feeling targeted and not believed.

"I think the hard part is that everybody thinks, 'No way. A police officer would report right away.' Or they think that a victim looks a certain way. Like it means you're weak if you're sexually assaulted or raped," she said.

She said that's why she didn't report right away when she was sexually assaulted. That, and she felt like she'd been groomed as early as the department's training academy not to report.

She said she sees how reports from female officers have been handled and how the investigations seem to focus on them, rather than on what happened.

"If I was raped today, I wouldn't report it. Because there's no point," she said about the internal process where complaints now are investigated by Internal Affairs rather than the city's personnel office.

She bristles at the suggestion from someone high in the ranks at LPD that anyone who sues is just after money. She said for her it's not about that.

"I want the entire truth to come out," the officer said.

City agrees to pay $500K to settle LFR captain's lawsuit claiming retaliation after reporting discrimination

The allegations aren't exclusive to the police department. Prior to Williams' lawsuit, three Lincoln firefighters filed lawsuits alleging they faced retaliation for reporting discrimination and harassment of female firefighters.

In 2019, a federal jury awarded Troy Hurd $1.1 million. The judgment later was reduced by a judge, and the city agreed to pay Hurd $600,000 to avoid a second trial.

Last year, the city agreed to pay Brian Giles $280,000 to settle his lawsuit.

Amanda Benson, who was a fire department captain until her recent firing, has a pending case, where she alleges the city failed to take steps to deal with the workplace harassment she faced.

Andrew Wegley contributed to this report.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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