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‘Sickening’: Top Philly cop charged with sexually assaulting officers he mentored

Philadelphia Police Department Chief Inspector Carl Holmes has been charged with sexually assaulting three female officers. (Philadelphia Police Department/Philadelphia Inquirer/AP) (AP)

After years of complaints, Philadelphia Police Department Chief Inspector Carl Holmes, among the highest-ranking commanders in the department, has been arrested and charged with the sexual assaults of three subordinate officers.

When the female officers came to him as a mentor, a grand jury found, Holmes, 54, “came on to them, and against their will and without their consent kissed them, fondled their breasts, and digitally penetrated their vaginas.” After they complained, they allegedly faced retaliation.

Holmes’s arrest follows a long line of grievances from female officers who have alleged a culture of systemic sexual harassment within one of the country’s largest police departments. Two of the alleged victims have publicly accused Holmes of sexual assault in news articles and in court documents for years, describing frightening encounters with a man they say they previously looked up to.

Yet despite their complaints, Holmes managed to climb the ladder before reaching chief inspector — managing to remain “insulated” from “any meaningful investigation” because of his high-ranking position, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said in a statement Thursday.

Speaking to reporters outside the police department on Thursday, acting police commissioner Christine M. Coulter, the department’s first female commissioner, described the allegations as “sickening.” Coulter replaced former commissioner Richard Ross in August following his resignation, which came abruptly after other female officers filed a sexual harassment complaint against the department — naming Ross as one of the many alleged perpetrators.

“Most of our folks do want to do a great job for our public,” Coulter said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s frightening that each time we take steps forward, and we think that we are moving ahead and getting together with our public, one of these instances comes forward."

Holmes was suspended for 30 days with the intent to dismiss, WPVI reported. He could not immediately be reached for comment, and it is unclear if he has an attorney; the police union said it would not be representing him.

According to a 26-page grand jury report, Holmes “developed relationships with recruits and young female police officers through his position at the PPD training academy and his rank as a senior officer, presenting himself as a safe resource and mentor,” the DA’s office said.

In two of the three cases, junior officers came to Holmes seeking guidance — in one case, to report sexual harassment by another supervisor. Instead, both women ended up being sexually assaulted by Holmes, the DA’s office said. In the third case, Holmes invited a female officer to join his elite task force. Three days after she joined, the same thing allegedly happened. She says Holmes forcibly kissed her, groped her and digitally penetrated her.

In all three cases, rather than aggressively pursuing Holmes, the PPD’s Internal Affairs Division investigated the female officers, the DA’s office said. “The grand jury alleges that PPD culture discourages reporting a fellow officer, especially a boss,” the DA’s office noted.

Between 2007 and August 2019, the city of Philadelphia settled at least 36 federal lawsuits with female police officers over claims of sexual misconduct or racial or gender discrimination, according to an analysis by WHYY. In that time period, the city paid out more than $2.3 million in settlements, WHYY reported.

The allegations in Holmes’s case date from 2004. In the first case, a woman went to Holmes’s office seeking help. She was considering filing a complaint against her supervisor for sexual harassment — but Holmes, who at a hulking 6-foot-6 was once signed by the Washington Redskins, issued a stern warning, the Inquirer reported. He said he was friends with the man she was accusing of sexual harassment, and if she were to file a complaint, she better “prepare for a fight.”

He then allegedly lifted her off the ground, placed her on his desk and started groping her, according to the grand jury report. When she pleaded with him to stop, he allegedly said, “no one would believe some little b---- like her anyway” and said he could “make her disappear,” according to the report.

Holmes then trapped her in his grasp and allegedly forced his finger into her vagina. She ran outside and called her mom.

When her mother picked up, “all I heard was crying and screaming and crying and screaming,” her mother told the grand jury, the Inquirer reported.

The woman was later arrested by Philadelphia police officers after filing a sexual harassment complaint against her supervisor. Somehow “abandoned drugs” were found in a trash can outside her house, so the Internal Affairs Division started investigating her, according to the grand jury report. She was later cleared, and ultimately left the department in 2009.

The second alleged incident took place in 2006. The Inquirer identified the victim in that case as Christa Hayburn, who told her story to the Philadelphia Daily News in detail in 2012. The article was headlined, “Despite a litany of complaints & lawsuits, why is Carl Holmes being promoted again?”

That question would linger for years.

Hayburn told the Daily News that during a party at a lounge, Holmes followed her to the bathroom and said to her from outside the door, “Remember, don’t forget to tell me when you’re leaving.” She was uncomfortable. Earlier in the night, she said, he gave her an unwanted kiss. She tried to wait him out at the bar, waiting until everyone else was gone before leaving — but she said she found him waiting for her in the parking lot.

He allegedly took her hand and led her to his department-issued Dodge Durango. “I kept telling him I had to leave, my husband was waiting for me, that I had to go and I didn’t want to do anything,” Hayburn told the Daily News.

But instead, Holmes allegedly touched her breasts, penetrated her with his fingers and grabbed her hand, guiding it to his exposed penis. Hayburn told the Daily News she was too afraid to resist and, at first, to report the assault — until 2008.

Then-police commissioner Charles H. Ramsey demoted Holmes to captain after her complaint, only to promote him back to inspector not long after, and then to chief inspector in 2012.

Finally, it would take a $1.25 million settlement involving allegations from a third woman, and a new top prosecutor, Larry Krasner, to bring the years-old allegations against Holmes back into focus.

The third alleged victim sued the city in 2016 claiming Holmes sexually assaulted her in 2007, citing numerous other instances in which male co-workers or supervisors allegedly subjected her to degrading comments, unwanted touching and other sexual harassment.

In 2007, she said Holmes called her into his office while they were on an overnight shift and steered the conversation in an inappropriate direction. He allegedly said, “I want to know how wet you are,” before forcing his hand down her pants, penetrating her and then tasting his finger, according to the lawsuit and news accounts.

The city settled the lawsuit for $1.25 million in December 2017, without admitting guilt. At the time, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney called the case “extremely troubling” and suggested that Krasner might review the case, the Inquirer reported in 2017.

Krasner ran his campaign on a “progressive prosecutor” platform and promised to clean up the police force, long plagued with allegations of misconduct ranging from witness intimidation to excessive force.

It’s unclear what exactly led Krasner to open the criminal investigation into Holmes, but he told WPIV on Thursday: “I think the record of some of my predecessors in the DA’s office [is] for being more concerned about politics and the protection of their friends in the police department rather than being concerned about equality and accountability in the police department."