The Woodward News

September 11, 2013

Sexual harassment complaint results in officer's suspension

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — A sexual harassment complaint filed by a female police dispatcher against a veteran Woodward police officer six months ago resulted in the suspension of the officer for two days without pay.

The complaint was reported to city officials by dispatch supervisor Maria Perez on behalf of the dispatcher, who asked not to be identified. It said the officer lifted the woman's shirt while she was on duty to view a tattoo on her lower back.

Perez and the dispatcher have since left the police department, citing the city's handling of the incident as the main reason. Both objected to the punishment as too lenient.

The incident involving Lt. Derek Ford occurred Feb. 28 at the police department’s communications center. The complaint was filed on March 15, but The News only recently learned of it.

In a letter written March 25 by Police Chief Harvey Rutherford to Ford and signed by both men, the lieutenant admitted to investigators that he lifted the dispatcher's shirt, but said it was "only in fun and [he] meant nothing sexual by it."

Rutherford wrote that since the act offended the dispatcher it was “a violation of the city's policies." The letter then outlined the suspension and advised Ford "that any act of this nature in the future can result in disciplinary action more severe than this."

Ford has been with the police department since 1989. Attempts to contact Ford for comment were unsuccessful.

Perez said she was told by the dispatcher and a co-worker who witnessed the incident that Ford repeatedly asked to see the tattoo on the dispatcher’s lower back.

"He lifted up [her] shirt and dropped a dollar on the floor, saying, 'Bend over and pick it up so I can see your tramp stamp,'" said Perez.

She said the dispatcher and witness also told her the incident occurred while the dispatcher was on duty and speaking with another officer over the radio.

Perez said after talking with the dispatcher and co-worker, she submitted the complaint to City Manager Alan Riffel. He referred it to the police department for an internal investigation.

“A complaint was filed, it was investigated and it was handled,” said Riffel, adding the police chief recommended the two-day suspension and he (Riffel) agreed with the decision, saying, "We did implement an action we felt was appropriate at the time under the circumstances of the case."

Perez said she was disappointed with the punishment and concerned for the dispatcher.

"I did everything in my power as her supervisor to bring justice to her. It didn't happen," said Perez. "Wrong is wrong and his superiors gave him two days on the ground without pay for his action. That is not justice."

Perez said the incident created an uncomfortable working environment for the dispatcher. And even though she was reassigned to a shift when Ford was off duty, the dispatcher left the department in April, six weeks after the incident, said Perez.

The News contacted the former dispatcher, but she did not want to comment, except to say the incident with Ford was the main reason she resigned. She had worked for the city for five years.

Perez said she left the department at the beginning of August because of the way the sexual harassment case was handled and “to make a new life.” She had worked for the city for more than 15 years.