Report on Police Sexual Harassment Led to Suspensions
Saturday, September 24, 2005
A lawyer hired by the Haymarket Town Council to investigate sexual harassment complaints in the police department concluded that a "hostile work environment" was created by sexually offensive comments allegedly made by the chief and his second-in-command, according to a report obtained by The Washington Post.
The lawyer, Jennifer L. Parrish, recommended firing both men, according to sources familiar with her findings. Instead, the Town Council suspended Chief James E. Roop, 49, and Sgt. Gregory Breeden, 47, for 15 days without pay. The suspensions began in June and ended in July.
The men were making "sex-related comments" on a "pervasive basis" and exposed the Town Council to litigation, said Parrish, a Fredericksburg-based lawyer. The situation served "to reflect badly on the Town in numerous other ways," she wrote.
Parrish, whom the city paid $7,728 to conduct the investigation, delivered her findings to the Town Council in a closed meeting in June, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is confidential. Town Council member James Tobias agreed with Parrish's assessment.
"I thought the facts were laid out pretty clearly based on the contents of the report," Tobias said. "I was somewhat disappointed that the rest of the council did not interpret the facts as I had interpreted them."
Town Council member Robert Weir, the council's liaison to the police department, questioned the report's credibility and said he has a "three-page typed list of problems with that report." Weir declined to comment on those problems.
Parrish did not return messages left at her office. Mayor Pamela Stutz declined to comment. Other council members also declined to comment, citing personnel reasons.
Roop said he would respond to the report's findings after he consulted with town officials and could see a reporter's questions in writing. "Absolutely, they're wrong," he said of the allegations in a brief conversation yesterday. "The truth needs to come out completely." He did not return calls later in the day seeking to follow up on the written questions.
Breeden declined to comment. During Parrish's interviews, both men denied making the comments. "He's a perfect gentleman," Roop said of Breeden in an interview.
The 10-page report, which was based on interviews with seven of the department's nine officers and its secretary, determined that no other officers were "involved in instigating the daily sexual comments or jokes."
Since June, allegations that the two men behaved inappropriately on the job have cast a spotlight on the tiny police department and the Town Council in western Prince William County.
The council never explained why it was suspending the two men, nor did it discuss Parrish's report. The silence frustrated residents, many of whom said the two men are extremely helpful and courteous law enforcement officers.
This month, Roop took a personal leave and Breeden was put in charge, but Breeden temporarily lost his right to carry a weapon after his estranged wife accused him of knocking down their kitchen door with an ax and was granted a preliminary protective order. Last week, a judge lifted that order, ruling that the wife was not in danger and that it's not a crime to damage your own property.
The sexual harassment investigation was initiated by Officer Robert Hoffman in June, when he alleged that Roop and Breeden "talk about sex and women's body parts on a constant basis" and that the comments had "gotten out of hand" when a female secretary was hired, according to the report.
The two men allegedly have talked about women walking by the office, the size of women's breasts and bodies, and about sexual acts in vulgar terms in front of the female secretary and visitors to the department, the report says.
In the report, the secretary, Hope Proffit, "seemed utterly terrified" under questioning and denied that either man "ever made any sex-related comments or jokes in her presence," Parrish wrote.
"My assessment of Ms. Proffit was that she was not telling the truth during the interview," Parrish wrote. "This was particularly confirmed when her husband, [Haymarket police Officer] Charlie Proffit told me of specific items that his wife had told him about that she denied had ever occurred during this interview."
In the report's conclusion, Parrish wrote that "if the Town has knowledge that sexual harassment is occurring, it has a duty to stop the harassment, regardless of whether any female complained about it."