Former Lincoln Police Officer brings to light alleged sexual harassment and discrimination within the department

10/11 NOW at 6
Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 7:44 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Sarah Williams, a former Lincoln Police Officer, is calling for a culture shift inside the Lincoln Police Department. She’s asking the Lincoln City Council to make it happen.

“You are the last entity to ensure culture changes within the Department and ensure that command staff is held responsible, that perpetrators will be held accountable and female officers will be held as equals,” Williams told the City Council.

Williams filed a lawsuit against the city in 2020 alleging harassment and discrimination within the department, because she’s a female. A settlement in her case was listed on Monday’s council agenda, but not discussed by councilors. The amount of the settlement was also not made public.

Williams told the Lincoln City Council she knows of two female police officers who had been sexually assaulted by other officers. She said the assaults had been reported to command staff, who hadn’t taken action. Williams said her experiences within the Lincoln Police Department resulted in anxiety and trauma related mental health diagnoses. She sought treatment from a therapist.

“There were days I didn’t want to be alive,” Williams told the council. “So I quit. I quit because I didn’t feel I had a choice. I feared for my safety, I didn’t trust my coworkers.”

Former and current female officers were also at the city council meeting. Officer Erin Spilker and Sgt. Angela Sands both hugged Williams after she spoke. Former officer Chassidy Jackson Goodwin also sat in on the meeting.

Williams claims she wasn’t the only female to experience discrimination, and said despite her lawsuit, and that of another current officer, Melissa Ripley, nothing has changed.

“My friends say it’s only gotten worse,” Williams told 10/11 NOW. “The harassment and retaliation endures. There’s more retaliation and spurious investigations.”

Williams specifically said Sands has been placed on an “unjustified, unpaid leave” and Ripley has been passed over for promotions.

“While five of us have the same attorney more officers and civilian staff want to come forward but are afraid of retaliation,” Williams said.

Williams said if the city council doesn’t intervene, she believes officers who stand up for themselves will be suspended or fired.

Monday evening, after the city council hearing, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, Chief Teresa Ewins and City Attorney Yohance Christie sent statements regarding the accusations.

In her statement, Chief Teresa Ewins said neither the City of Lincoln nor LPD tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind.

“We have strong anti-discrimination policies and have made extensive efforts to foster an inclusive and safe workplace. We take all complaints, external or internal, seriously,” Ewins said in a statement.

Her statement continues on to say she wants to be as transparent as possible about these processes, while keeping complaints confidential.

“It is each employee’s right to initiate a public lawsuit and until such time, the City will not disclose any details about the specific allegations or who has lodged them. As a City, we have promptly investigated each complaint and taken appropriate action.”

Ewins also said any suggestion that the department isn’t an equal opportunity employer is incorrect.

10/11 NOW also spoke with Brad Hulse, the head of the Lincoln Police Union. Hulse told 10/11 NOW he is aware of ongoing investigations into female Lincoln Police Officers. However, he said he doesn’t believe they’re related to complaints.

“It wouldn’t go well if the new chief came in and said ‘we’re going to suspend someone because they’re suing the city,’” Hulse said. “That’s not going to get you anywhere. It could generate another lawsuit.”

Hulse said the investigations are related to recently made accusations against the performance of the officers involved.

Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird also sent a statement. She said complaints are taken seriously.

“My administration is committed to responding to allegations of any wrongdoing within our organization, while ensuring that all employees are held accountable for their job performance,” Gaylor Baird said in her statement.

Williams said in her speech, she filed complaints with everyone she could, but nothing happened.

City Attorney, Yohance Christie, said the complaint process has been strengthened by placing the process solely with in the city’s human resources department.

“Previously, the Law Department could be responsible for reviewing and investigating internal allegations of discrimination while also fulfilling its role to defend the City against lawsuits. The new process will provide for a thorough examination of all the issues and removes any possibility of a conflict of interest,” Christie’s statement said.

Williams said despite the settlement in her case being placed on file by the Lincoln City Council, she doesn’t believe her lawsuit changed anything. She fears, she wasted her time filing it.

But she does hope her statement can make a difference.

“I hope by bringing awareness it applies pressure to the city to make those changes to the culture within the Lincoln Police Department,” Williams said.

As of now, only Williams and Ripley have filed public lawsuits against the Lincoln Police Department. No settlement has been discussed in Ripley’s case at this time.

The attorney for both Williams and Ripley declined to comment.

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