Women sue Georgia police chief alleging sexual misconduct

 

Women sue Georgia police chief alleging sexual misconduct

ATLANTA (AP) — A city in southeastern Georgia is seeking to remove its police chief after three women who resigned from the department sued, alleging he sexually assaulted and harassed them.

The women allege Jesup Police Chief Mike Lane subjected them to “repeated lewd, sexual comments and unwanted physical touchings,” making their jobs so intolerable that they resigned. They’re suing not only Lane, but the city of Jesup and City Manager Mike Deal, saying the city ignored harassment complaints and Deal changed rules to keep Lane on the job. The women seek lost pay and other damages.

The lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Brunswick alleges the women were subjected to illegal sexual discrimination and said the plaintiffs intend to also allege civil rights violations once the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission clears them to sue. The Associated Press is not naming the women because they say they are victims of sexual assault.

On Tuesday, Jesup’s mayor and city commissioners directed Deal to suspend Lane and move to fire him. The 10,000-person town is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Savannah.

In a news release Wednesday, the mayor and commissioners said they want to create “a safe and harmonious environment for all.”

Neither Lane nor Deal returned calls from WTOC-TV seeking comment. Lawyers for the defendants are not yet listed in the court records and no formal reply has been filed to the lawsuit.

The women say Lane made hugging and kissing him a condition of their employment, using that as a chance to grope them and finding other ways to touch them on the breasts or buttocks. They allege in the lawsuit that Lane constantly asked them for sex, including telling one woman that she “owed” him sex in exchange for her job with the police department and telling a second woman, “I’ve done so much for you, you can do something for me.”

The first woman said that Lane forced his tongue into her mouth when kissing her, while the second woman counted at least 20 times that Lane grabbed her buttocks, sometimes making “a vulgar noise.”

The second woman said that in early 2019, Lane pushed his hand up her dress and touched her genitals through her underwear. At other times, that woman said Lane touched her hair, including at one time taking her hair down from a bun. In early 2020, when the woman was eight months pregnant, she said Lane sent an email to the entire department claiming she was still trying to figure out who was the “baby daddy.”

A third woman said she would leave her body armor on to avoid being groped by Lane. She said Lane required her to drive him around on personal errands, at one point directing her to pull into a driveway where he pointed out a building where the two could have sex.

All three women say Lane told them that Deal would let him use the city manager’s cabin to have sex with women. They say the city and Deal knew, or should have known, about Lane, including his claims about the city manager’s cabin, because the third woman made multiple sexual harassment complaints.

The third woman filed a complaint with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office late last year after she resigned, accusing Lane of sexual harassment and sexual battery.

That sparked an internal investigation conducted by the Liberty County sheriff’s office, as well as an investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that Jesup officials say remains incomplete. The lawsuit alleges Lane admitted to “conversations of an inappropriate sexual nature” with the third woman during the Liberty County inquiry, with investigators concluding he violated the city’s sexual harassment policy.

The third woman said Deal told her on Jan. 8 that he would only put Lane on leave if he were arrested, even though city procedures required him to take such action against any city employee under investigation. The lawsuit says Deal then changed city procedures to remove the requirement. The plaintiffs allege this shows Deal and the city endorsed Lane’s behavior, making them liable as well.

Lane has been chief in Jesup since 2018.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.

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Published at Wed, 03 Feb 2021 14:56:00 +0000

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