McClatchy's America

Sex talk led to harassment claims, firing or discipline for sheriff’s officers

Sexual harassment cases in Tarrant County Sheriff's Department.
Sexual harassment cases in Tarrant County Sheriff's Department.

Editor’s note: This article includes graphic language.

FORT WORTH — The comment came in casual conversation, when a female officer who worked at a Tarrant County jail asked her boss what he did on weekends.

The reply was jolting, when Cpl. Christopher Minor allegedly told the woman, his subordinate, that “I sit in my bed all weekend and jack off.”

Not long after that, in 2014, the woman claimed Minor told her she was assigned to shakedown so she would have to remove her coat and “not hide her butt” under it.

She filed a sexual harassment complaint, which eventually was dismissed for lack of evidence.

Minor denied making inappropriate comments, according to a report by the Tarrant County Sheriff’s OfficeInternal Affairs Division, saying “he has never made any sexual comments like those alleged by (the female officer) to anyone while at work or in his personal life.”

In July 2017, another complaint — not for sexual harassment — was filed against Minor, who had been promoted to sergeant.

This time, Minor, who is black, was accused of calling black female officers a variety of names, including “little chocolate girl,” “hot chocolate” and “dark chocolate.” He was also accused of having a sexual relationship with women he supervised.

The complaint that Minor failed “to demonstrate professional behavior” also noted another female officer’s claims that, when she occasionally wore makeup or lipstick, Minor would say: “I used to be with prostitutes like you overseas” or “the male inmates are going to have a ball tonight. That’s why they are always jacking off because you are looking like that.”

Minor admitted calling two officers “hot chocolate” and “little chocolate girl,” but denied having inappropriate relationships with subordinates.

He was fired in September and is appealing the termination, said Terry S. Boone, a staff attorney with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas who is representing Minor.

“When you look at intent, Christopher Minor certainly wasn’t trying to sexually harass anyone,” Boone said. “In his current case, there’s not even a statement regarding sexual harassment. ... It was about his supervisory skills.

“We do not believe those charges to be well-founded.”

‘One case of harassment is too many’

Though he wasn’t terminated for the sexual harassment accusation, the 2014 complaint against Minor is one of eight sexual harassment claims filed in Tarrant County — all from the Sheriff’s Office — since 2014, according to nearly 100 pages of documents obtained by the Star-Telegram through an open records request.

“We think one case of harassment is too many,” said David McClelland, chief of staff for Sheriff Bill Waybourn, who took office in January 2017, replacing Dee Anderson. “We expect the highest level of conduct from our employees at all times and we will not tolerate sexual harassment in any form from our team members.”

Of the eight complaints filed since 2014, four were declared unfounded or dismissed for lack of evidence. Of the other four, one employee was temporarily suspended, one resigned instead of getting fired and two received written disciplines.

Tarrant County jail
Some of the sexual harassment claims have come officers working at Tarrant County jails. Star-Telegram archives

Four of those named in complaints no longer work for the sheriff’s department. Four still do, county records show.

“Obviously we wished we lived in a world that these things never happened,” McClelland said.

Officers who filed the complaints, or were named in them, declined to comment, did not respond to requests from the Star-Telegram or could not be reached for comment.

Boone, who has represented several local deputies through the years, said he believes the complaints need to be put in context.

“Part of the issue within the sheriff’s department is that there is a culture,” he said. “You are in a high-stress environment when working in a jail. People tend to joke and play around in those sort of situations. ... People tend to forget their boundaries.

“Someone you have played and joked with ... (may) one day feel that your patting them on the shoulder crosses a boundary and they are offended,” Boone said. “If you work in a jocular environment, where people kid with each other, the question always is: ‘Did you cross the line? Did you start behaving differently? Was there something different that time?’ 

The women who made the complaints are not being identified. And the Star-Telegram is only identifying the officers involved in complaints that investigators determined to be true.

‘Who is more believable?’

In recent months, sexual harassment or assault allegations have been talked about nationwide, prompting the #MeToo movement on social media and even spurring the dismissal of high-profile figures such as Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, NBC’s Matt Lauer, CBS’ Charlie Rose and TV Chef Mario Batali.

Allegations of sexual misconduct prompted the resignation of politicians — or announcements that officeholders would not seek another term — ranging from Democratic U.S. Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota and John Conyers of Michican to U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

“The biggest solution is having ... society talk more openly about this secret,” said Christine Williams, a sociology professor at the University of Texas in Austin. “The deck is always stacked against the complainant. It’s a case of one person says this, one person says that — and who is more believable?”

But now that more people are talking about the issue, and offenders are being held accountable for their behavior, Williams said more people may come forward with complaints even in male-dominated arenas.

Al Franken file
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is one of the politicians who has announced he will resign following claims of sexual harassment. Glen Stubbe TNS

“Law enforcement is one of the arenas that hasn’t really changed a lot over time,” Williams said. “Sexual harassment is almost like a method some use to preserve male-only spaces in the workplace. On the other hand, this happens in nearly every occupation.”

Boone acknowledged that, due to the spotlight shining on the issue of sexual harassment or assault, “there is a heightened sensitivity to workplace conduct (that) has had an effect on the sheriff’s department.”

There was a chilling effect in the 1990s, Williams said, after Anita Hill accused then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Hill testified before Congress that Thomas harassed her by discussing sexual subjects, even examining a can of Coke and asking, “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”

Many questioned Hill’s credibility; Thomas was confirmed for the job.

“That experience made some women think twice before coming forward,” Williams said. “If women feel justice has been served, they’ll come forward. It’s always going to be difficult to prove in a legal case what exactly happened.”

In general, most experts agree that the current climate will encourage more people to report sexual harassment.

“In the past, the principal concern was that victims of harassment and abuse would be reluctant to complain out of fear of retribution and/or their complaint being ignored or dismissed,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “That concern has dissipated somewhat over the past few months as the #MeToo movement has prospered.”

Allegations and results

Here’s a look at other sexual harassment complaints against the Tarrant County sheriff’s department over the past three years, according to records obtained by the Star-Telegram.

▪ Security Control Specialist James Ward was suspended four days without pay and instructed to attend sexual harassment training after allegedly asking a female co-worker in 2015 if “the drapes match the carpet,” referring to whether the hair color on her head matched her pubic hair. Ward, who no longer works for the sheriff’s office, was allegedly known to say that he liked “eating tacos, the hairless ones.”

▪ In a 2014 case, a male officer allegedly told a female co-worker that he was going to have “sex and booze” over a holiday weekend and asked if she and her boyfriend wanted to have an “Eiffel Tower” — a threesome made up of two men and one woman — with him. The case was closed after the claims were declared unfounded.

▪ Also in 2014, Officer Karlton Kennard was disciplined for allegedly making an obscene sexual related gesture and related comments to a co-worker while on duty and in front of others. He still works for the sheriff’s department.

▪ In 2016, a complaint about a male officer who allegedly “made derogatory comments of a sexual nature” about a female co-worker — claiming he said he’d “like to hit that” — was closed after investigators didn’t find enough information to support the allegations.

▪ In 2017, an investigation began into a complaint about Sgt. Ian Truehitt allegedly inappropriately talking to and touching a subordinate female co-worker. She said he “would grab both of her hands and pull her close to him when they were talking,” read her personal work emails, rub her shoulders and once “placed his hand on her butt and moved her out of the way as he was walking by.” The woman said she never, “at any time, gave him any idea that it would have been okay.” Truehitt resigned “in lieu of termination.”

▪ In 2017, Officer Jamie L. Frazier was disciplined after claims were filed about his allegedly making “inappropriate sexual comments, including unwanted touching,” to a female detention officer. He allegedly told her: “You don’t know what I want to do to you.” And he allegedly massaged her shoulders and one time grabbed her shoulder with one hand “while touching her right hip and buttocks area with the other hand.” The male officer said he had a “consensual sexual relationship” with the woman making the allegations. The woman “strongly denied” that claim. He still works for the sheriff’s department.

▪ Also last year, an investigation began into claims that a male officer made inappropriate comments, such as telling a female co-worker that if she kept “bouncing like that with your (breasts), it’s going to make me want to f--- you.” The investigation was closed after “the information obtained during the investigation was not sufficient to support the allegations.”

The Tarrant County Law Enforcement Association declined to comment on the local cases.

County investigations

County officials say any employee who believes he or she has been harassed should file a complaint with their boss and/or the county administrator’s office within 30 days. Cases will, at least informally, be resolved within 60 days, according to a statement from the county. Anyone who disagrees with the final result may appeal it.

“Sexual harassment will not be tolerated and all complaints will be investigated timely and thoroughly,” county officials said in a written statement.

McClelland notes that the sheriff’s department is the largest office in the county — and the only one that has an Internal Affairs Division.

In addition to eight sexual harassment cases, there were six others dealing with sexually explicit issues listed under charges such as conduct unbecoming an officer.

One of those cases was the complaint against Minor regarding his “chocolate” statements.

Two others from 2015 were dismissed regarding complaints that two male officers allegedly “made inappropriate comments” toward a transgender female inmate, telling her to get her “transgendered a-- back against the wall.” The inmate said that, and other comments, put her in danger. Investigators said they didn’t find enough information to support the allegations.

Also in 2015, a complaint alleged that Deputy Stephen Johnson approached an underage girl at a fast food restaurant, told her she has “the perfect figure” and brushed her bangs away from her face. The girl described her experience with the uniformed deputy as “creepy.” Johnson was suspended for 90 days without pay. He no longer works for the sheriff’s department.

In 2016, Cpl. James Davis was disciplined after he was overheard making comments “of a sexual nature or with sexual implications that some officers found offensive.” He no longer works for the sheriff’s department.

And in 2017, a case was investigated and dismissed for lack of evidence to support claims that a female officer was romantically involved with a male inmate and brought contraband, including drugs, into jail for him.

There are two additional cases involving Deputy Alan Hoover — one claiming sexual harassment and one not — under criminal investigation.

These cases allege that in 2016 Hoover “made inappropriate sexual advances toward a citizen” and made “inappropriate sexual comments, texted multiple lewd photos to multiple subjects and engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior while on duty and while in uniform.” Also alleged is that Hoover “sent confidential ... information to an unauthorized individual.”

Hoover was indicted on charges of aggravated sexual assault and official oppression, but has yet to go to trial. Hoover resigned “in lieu of termination.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Tarrant County Sexual Harassment Policy

“It is against Tarrant County policy for any employee, official, or non-employee who deals directly with the county, to display conduct which has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with work performance of others or creating a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment for others due to some form of sexual harassment. Thus, unlawful sexual harassment of an employee by another employee or by a non-employee is clearly a violation of County policy. It is against County policy for any employee or official to make unwelcome sexual advances toward another employee or to take part in any personnel action decision where submission to such action is expressed or implied as a condition of employment. Employees are hereby protected from any reprimands against them for rejection of a sexual favor, or for alerting proper officials of any physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature that is interpreted to be unlawful sexual harassment. Employees who feel they have been unlawfully sexually harassed should report such violations to the Director of Human Resources. Violations of this policy may be subject to disciplinary, administrative or legal action.”