School police chief hit with sex harassment suits

 

The Miami-Dade school district is defending an investigation into whether its reassigned police chief sexually harassed two officers after the women went public with their accusations and their attorney called the probe “a joke.”

dsmiley@MiamiHerald.com

Two female officers have gone public with sexual harassment accusations against Miami-Dade Public Schools’ police chief, saying they have lost faith in the district’s investigation of their complaints.

Schools Police Cmdr. Deanna Fox-Williams and Officer Yewande Gibson alleged months ago that schools Police Chief Charles Hurley had sexually harassed them. The first of the accusations, made months apart, led the district to open a probe in April after being contacted by the federal government. Hurley was reassigned in May.

On Tuesday, more than half a year later, the women filed separate complaints in Miami-Dade Circuit Court naming not only Hurley as a defendant, but the superintendent and the school board, which they say failed to appropriately act to protect them.

Both women also have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and hired famed Stuart personal injury attorney Willie Gary.

They are now seeking $1.1 million in damages, Gary said. They gave an interview Tuesday to WTVJ-NBC6.

Gary said his clients decided to pursue litigation only after getting “the run-around” from the district. He said other women have called his office to say they too were harassed by Hurley and are seeking representation.

“They think it’s a joke,” Gary said. “These people are not serious about investigating the chief.”

Jimmie Brown, district director of the Office of Professional Standards, said Wednesday afternoon that the district doesn’t comment on pending litigation but takes sexual harassment allegations seriously.

“The school district took swift action after being notified of the allegation about the employee,” Brown said in a statement. “An investigation was launched and the employee was reassigned, relieving him of all law enforcement duties.”

Hurley, who became schools police chief in 2008, is now working out of the district’s South Regional Office, collecting his $114,000 annual salary, according to Brown. The current acting police chief is Maj. Gerald Kitchell.

Hurley could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

According to the complaints filed Tuesday, Hurley’s harassment of Fox-Williams and Gibson began in 2007, before he became police chief, and continued for years.

Gibson says Hurley, at the time a police commander, began a “campaign” of harassment by inviting her in 2007 to a house he had renovated. She says he grabbed her, kissed her, unzipped his pants and forced her to touch him before she fled.

Fox-Williams said Hurley told her he wanted to make her his wife, wanted to have sex on her desk, and once asked if he could have the gum she was chewing.

The alleged harassment took place at a school, an administration building, and a martial arts class, according to the complaints.

And the women say Hurley retaliated when they refused his advances. Fox-Williams says Hurley launched an internal affairs probe against her in March 2012. Gibson said Hurley denied her equipment and then transferred her 35 miles from her home.

Brown would not respond to the lawsuits or to Gary. But he stressed that the district has to “keep a balance between the rights of the alleged victim and the rights of each employee.” He said the investigations are “complex” and deal with “incidents that occurred before the current administration and before the employee was chief of police.”

“In this case, an independent third party review of the investigation was conducted,” Brown said. “Although these allegations were shocking, the district is conducted by rule of law and process, and will continue to follow all necessary procedures.”

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