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Three officers preparing to sue Salt Lake City, police over handling of alleged sexual harassment

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Posted at 9:21 PM, May 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-24 23:21:49-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake City, their police department, and chief of police are about to be sued by three female officers who say they were sexually harassed by a supervisor.

“I can tell you that it’s had a severe emotional impact on all three of them, they do their job because they are professionals, they go out there and work hard every single day, that doesn’t mean they have not suffered,” said Ed Brass, who is the attorney for the officers.

Brass is referring to Salt Lake City Police Officer Tiffany Commagere, Sgt. Robin Heiden, and former Lieutenant Melody Gray, who now works for Unified Police.

“The city’s human resources department determined that the women we represent had been sexually harassed by a superior officer,” Brass said.

However, despite these findings, the city has not taken any disciplinary action against the alleged perpetrator of the harassment, retired Deputy Chief Rick Findlay.

“The problem is without the ordinary discipline process they haven’t been able to get this behind them, it doesn’t appear from the outside that this has been taken seriously by the administration and the police department," Brass said.

According to the harassment claims, Findlay took two of the officers’ private cell phones, without them knowing, and transferred their personal photographs to his own phone, and then shared the photographs with co-workers.

“We think it’s an intrusion of their privacy and certainly the city agreed with us because, again, their human resources department agreed that they had been harassed,” Brass said.

Another officer claims that Findlay made up lies to co-workers that he had personal photographs of her.

“We’ve never seen it, and there shouldn’t be one because they don’t exist as far as we know,” Brass said of the alleged images.

Findlay was placed on administrative leave in November 2013, where he remained for eight months before retiring in June 2014.

“He was permitted to retire with full benefits after 20 years, however, the initial complaints had been made long before that,” Brass said.

At the time of the harassment complaints, Findlay was in charge of Internal Affairs. The officers say that not only jeopardized the internal investigation but put them in danger of retaliation.

“People over there talk about this, everyone in the police department knows about it, and somehow they are thought to be blamed for this,” Brass said.

In the case of Robin Heiden, she believes she was passed up for promotions, by Findlay, because of her complaints.

“He sat on a board that determined whether or not she would be promoted, and it’s my understanding that that might of not just happened one time but more than one time,” Brass said.

Brass said this lawsuit isn’t just about these three particular officers, but all the women in the Salt Lake City Police Department.

“What these officers want is for the culture of the police department to change so that this doesn’t happen to female officers in the future, so female officers are treated exactly the same in all respects as male officers,” Brass said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker issued a statement, which is available in its entirety below:

"I take any claim of harassment and discrimination very seriously. As this situation unfolded, my administration addressed the issue with the Police Department, and will continue to do so in close coordination with the Human Resources Department and the City Attorney’s Office to prevent this kind of behavior in the future. It’s simply unacceptable.

The 3,000 employees of Salt Lake City work hard every day to serve our residents and visitors, and we have citywide processes in place to ensure that they may work in an environment that is safe and free from hostility.

It took courage for the three female officers to bring this claim forward. I recognize it is particularly difficult to do so in a professional, and potentially public, setting. My administration will not tolerate any instance of retaliation associated with these or any other claims."