A former Hyattsville police officer has filed a federal lawsuit alleging systemic sexual discrimination and sexual harassment within the city’s police department, including charges that she was sexually assaulted by a ranking officer while attending a Fraternal Order of Police conference in Louisville, KY.
The lawsuit was filed on June 28 by Marsha Lessard, a 2005 graduate of the Prince George's County Police Academy.
Lessard was hired as a private in the Hyattsville police force within a week of graduation from the academy. She continued to work for the department until June of 2009 when she was fired, according to court documents.
Lessard is suing the city for sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and for retaliation against her when she complained to her supervisors about the situation.
"The Hyattsville Police Department has a dangerously chauvinistic culture that was rife with sexual bigotry," reads Lessard's complaint. "Male officers were allowed and encouraged to sexually harass female officers. The worst offenders acted with impunity and female officers that complained of the harassment were severely retaliated against and threatened."
Lessard's complaint lists at least 10 Hyattsville city police officers by name in describing a series of incidents that she alleges made the department a hostile work environment for women.
Read the full complaint in the PDF attatched to the right of this article. WARNING: Graphic language.
Hyattsville Communications Director Abby Sandel said last night that the city would not comment on pending lawsuits. During the time period covered by the lawsuit, the police department was run by Chief Douglas Holland, a position he still holds.
UPDATE - 10:05 a.m. - Sandel issued a brief statement on behalf of the city of Hyattsville earlier this morning. It reads in full:
This matter is in federal litigation. However, we believe strongly and without exception, that all City employees have the right to be treated equally and fairly. As a matter of policy, the City has long forbidden discrimination in its workplaces in any form and will continue to do so.
The complaint goes into graphic detail, describing alleged incidents of sexual harassment committed by members of the Hyattsville Police Department.
Perhaps the most shocking allegations stem from an August 2007 trip to the FOP conference in Louisville, KY, in which Lessard alleges that Cpl. Pat O'Hagan, who currently serves as the president of the Hyattsville FOP lodge, tried to rape her.
Lessard alleges that during the opening night of the conference, O'Hagan pulled her into a restaurant bathroom, groped her and forced her to touch his crotch. Lessard says in the complaint that she was able to break free when a man entered the bathroom suddenly and shouted, "What's going on?!"
According to Lessard's complaint, she told fellow police officers at the conference of the incident immediately, but no action was taken.
Later that night, Lessard alleges that O'Hagan entered her hotel room while she was sleeping, got on top of her and tried to rape her. A friend of Lessard, who was sharing a room with her, tackled O'Hagan and forced him off of Lessard and out of the room, her complaint states.
When she returned to Hyattsville, Lessard alleges that complaints filed with supervisors about O'Hagan's behavior were ignored.
A phone call to O'Hagan was not returned Wednesday night.
Lessard’s complaint also singles out Sgt. Mark Roski, whom Lessard said perpetuated an atmosphere of sexual discrimination within the department by insisting that women tolerate sexual harassment.
In March 2008, the complaint says Roski placed Lessard under O'Hagan's supervision during a round of restructuring, although Lessard vehemently objected.
Lessard’s complaint alleges that officers in the department routinely used sexist, homophobic and derogatory remarks to refer to coworkers and members of the public.
One section of her complaint alleges that city police officers would often use unmonitored radio channels to describe attractive women encountered while on patrol.
Officers were alleged to have frequently bragged of their sexual exploits in graphic detail, and others were said to have abandoned their posts to engage in sexual activities before returning to work.
Lessard claims that she was forced to go weeks without a police radio and had trouble getting other officers to provide back-up for her while on patrol.
Lessard alleges that she was subject to a litany of other discriminatory workplace abuses by her colleagues and superiors over the next two years. She bounced between active duty and disability leave until May 2009, she said, when the city let her go, saying that she was unable to resume her normal job activities.
Lessard claims that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her workplace ordeals.
Lessard is seeking a jury trial to claim unspecified damages. Her suit also seeks to force the city to eliminate the discriminatory and harassing workplace practices alleged in her complaint.
This is not the only legal trouble for the city's police department. At least three other cases filed in Maryland's U.S. District Court against the city of Hyattsville remain open.
Two of those involve allegations of excessive force by city police officers in separate incidents. A third lawsuit, filed by a former city police officer, alleges that the city police department perpetuated a racially discriminatory work environment and violated equal employment opportunity laws in its treatment of minority officers.