Attorneys call for investigation into sexual harassment complaint at DPD academy

Dallas police

Credit: WFAA

Attorneys call for investigation into sexual harassment complaint at DPD academy

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by TANYA EISERER

Bio | Email | Follow: @tanyaeiserer

WFAA

Posted on May 19, 2014 at 3:15 PM

Updated Monday, May 19 at 10:41 PM

DALLAS — Attorneys representing a female police recruit asked Monday that the Dallas city manager appoint an outside investigator to look into allegations that the department failed to investigate a sexual harassment complaint she made against a police academy classmate.

Rebecca Knutson, the female recruit, filed a sexual harassment complaint Monday with the city’s human resources department.

That male recruit is the son of a current Dallas police officer who has been known to be a close friend of Police Chief David Brown.

“The situation calls for an investigation from the outside in, as opposed to the inside up,” her Dallas Police Association attorney Bob Gorsky wrote in a letter.

‎In a statement, Brown wrote that academy staff were made aware of the sexual harassment allegation. He wrote that they conducted “a review of the allegation, and after talking with the parties involved, determined the behavior inappropriate and counseled the involved recruits.”

The chief acknowledged that the recruit who is the subject of the sexual harassment allegation is the son of a current Dallas police officer and has worked in assignments with him.

“I would never give special treatment to a family member, any friend of my family, and family member of a fellow officer or anyone,” he wrote.

According to Knutson's complaint, the male recruit sent her ‎text messages and made inappropriate comments — including remarks about the size of his genitals, sent a text message of himself shirtless, and a picture of his bare buttocks.

She said she told him to stop contacting her because he was making her uncomfortable. Instead, she said the harassment continued.

In her complaint, Knutson said that in mid-March, she told Senior Cpl. Manny Sanchez — her police academy class coordinator — that she was being sexually harassed. She said Sanchez was very supportive.

Sanchez alerted his supervisors to the complaint. Lt. Chris Harmon instructed Knutson to provide a written complaint, which she did. She also provided officials the text messages and photographs, the letter said.

“It is believed that Lt. Chris Harmon promptly reported the complaint to his supervisors,” the letter said.

Under the department's general orders, complaints of sex harassment are to be ‎"immediately" forwarded to internal affairs for investigation. That does not appear to have happened in this case.

Several days after documenting her initial complaint in writing to academy supervisors, Knutson said she was summoned to a meeting in the office of Maj. Melissa McGee, who was the commander over the academy.

"Major McGee asked if I could handle staying in the class, or if she needed to recycle me to a later class," the recruit wrote. "I told Major McGee that I did not do anything wrong, that I worked too hard to get to this point, and that I was not going to be recycled. Major McGee acknowledged me and dismissed me back to class." ‎

Knutson wrote that the harassment continued and that the male recruit would "intensely stare at her" and mutter curse words about her under his breath. Other times, she said, he would block her path.

On one occasion, she said he called and angrily demanded to know if she was the one who had filed the complaint against him. ‎She said she felt very threatened, and that one of her sisters asked another recruit to stay with them for a while until her father was able to come.‎

This is the latest controversy surrounding the police academy.

Dallas Police Association president Ron Pinkston alleged that police commanders had improperly helped a recruit pass the pursuit vehicle operations testing. The department denied the allegations and launched an investigation.

In late April, the department put Cpl. Sanchez on administrative leave over allegations that the recruit’s score had been improperly lowered in such a way that it caused him to fail the test.

Gorsky said Sanchez did not know the name of the recruit when another instructor asked him if he should grade an error that the recruit had made.

In his statement, Chief Brown wrote that auditors from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement found that academy staff at one point believed that the recruit was his godson, but since had come to believe the other recruit — the same one who was accused of sexual harassment — was his godson.

“We don’t know if either recruit was targeted for that reason, but we do know that both recruits driving test scores were lowered inappropriately,” Brown wrote. “Neither recruit is my godson. There are no Dallas Police Department recruits who are related to me or members of my family.”

E-mail teiserer@wfaa.com

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