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Lawyer: Hyattsville PD 'Ripe for Abuse'

Former police officer's lawyer says city lacks the institutional ability to put a stop to sexual harassment.

An attorney for a former Hyattsville city police officer said that the lawsuit allegations paint a picture of a workplace poisoned by demeaning sexual bigotry.

"I think this is outrageous, the type of workplace conditions that exist in Hyattsville," said Michael Amster, lawyer for Marsha Lessard, the former police officer bringing suit against the city. "Hyattsville in particular is a situation that's just ripe for abuse…they don't have the professional institutions that are doing the necessary checks and balances to prevent or put a stop to these behaviors."

The Right to Sue

Lessard, a city police officer from 2005 through 2009, filed a federal lawsuit against the city last month for violations of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and whistleblower retaliation laws stemming from her employment with the Hyattsville City Police Department. At the time, Lessard was known as Marsha Mutchler. 

Amster said Lessard waited until 2012 to file a lawsuit against the city because she was, by law, unable to bring a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit in federal court until she had exhausted all other administrative remedies.

Amster said that Lessard repeatedly complained to superiors about frequent sexual harassment in the city police department almost immediately after being hired.

Lessard filed charges with the Prince George's County Human Rights Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in spring of 2009.

According to Amster, the Prince George's County Department of Human Rights investigated the allegations but determined that the statute of limitations had expired.

But the EEOC investigation was apparently ongoing, according to Amster. It was only this past June that Lessard obtained a letter from the EEOC board stating that investigation had closed, giving her the right to sue for damages.

Policy, Practice and Police

Hyattsville city officials have not commented on Lessard's specific allegations. But the Hyattsville communications office released a statement Thursday that said the city maintains a non-discrimination policy to which all employees are expected to adhere.

That policy prohibits sexual jokes and innuendo, verbal abuse, the display of sexually suggestive pictures or objects in the workplace and inappropriate, unwanted physical contact.

Abby Sandel, communications director for the city of Hyattsville, said that the last time all city employees were required to attend sexual harassment avoidance training was in the spring of 2009. 

Amster said he has witnesses who can corroborate elements of Lessard's lawsuit.

Lessard's complaint alleges that a near constant atmosphere of sexual harassment interfered with her duties and stymied her career development. According to Amster, Lessard was ultimately released from her job with the police department in 2009 after she was found unable to cope with the stress of the workplace. 

Amster said that it was the work environment that caused Lessard's stress, not the job. The lawsuit claims that Lessard now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her experience.

Included among Lessard's allegations are charges that Pat O'Hagan, currently a sergeant on the city police force and president of the Hyattsville FOP lodge, sexually assaulted her during an August 2007 FOP national conference in Louisville, KY. 

Phone calls to national, state and local FOP offices were not returned.

Lessard Honored While Alleging Humiliation

Lessard was hired by the city police department a month after graduating from the Prince George's County police academy in 2005.

In 2006, she was awarded the city police department's Silver Medal and Life Saving Award when her quick actions while off duty in June 2005 helped save the life of a woman who had been stabbed. 

In 2008, Lessard was the recipient of a Command Recognition award from the city police department for "outstanding work" in the previous year.

Amster said that Lessard has not worked in law enforcement since her time in Hyattsville. She now lives in rural Virginia with her husband, an Army Green Beret.

KarenJ July 13, 2012 at 09:30 PM
It is not true that she has not worked since 2009. She has not worked for any police department since 2009. She has since gone back to college, earned a masters degree and has been gainfully employed. Again this suit is NOT financialy motivated.
HyattsvilleRewind July 13, 2012 at 09:38 PM
This is really a sad situation. It's not my prerogative to comment on the alleged harassment, but when speaking of the rights of someone who has (in whatever way) been persecuted, I stand with the all those who have ever felt the wrath of an angry mob, or a bribed jury, or unjust rulers and laws...Wrong is wrong. Even when the victim doesn't leave her job (which she shouldn't have to), it's still wrong. It will never be not wrong.
Michael Theis July 13, 2012 at 09:55 PM
As a point of fact, and as pointed out in this article, the federal sexual harassment and civil rights laws she's suing under, Title VII in particular, don't allow you to bring suit until you have exhausted all other administrative attempts at addressing the issue, including, presumably, any "personal level" attempts.
HyattsvilleRewind July 13, 2012 at 10:10 PM
I understand, HyattsvilleCouldBeBetter, and I agree with your statements about the HCPD's work. There are a few officers there--including Chief Holland--who are very upstanding (and I suspect more than a few, though I am unaware of their names), but much like a company getting a bad rap for insider trading, etc, it affects the entire department when someone misbehaves. I don't know if O'Hagan, McCauley, Powell and Roski et al did what they are accused of. It's a no-win. Either they are guilty, or they are innocent, being falsely raked over the coals. I hope the city deals with this situation before it rots the department from within.
Youhavenerve July 13, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Seriously? And, just what responsibilities do you feel are the victim's? Just curious here...because she IS the victim! I, personally, believe she went well above and beyond what should be expected in reporting these incidents. And, please tell me -- just what insight or knowledge do you have about what Ms. Lessard has been doing since 2009? Yeah, none -- I thought not! "Unnecessary drama?" Really? We're not talking about mere harrassment. O'Hagen already admitted that he attempted to rape Ms. Lessard but he plea bargained. So goes it when you belong to the "good ole boys club!" Gee...I feel so safe! (NOT!) Ms. Lessard is to be commended for having the courage to stand up and fight against the despicable behaviors and, obviously (even if unspoken) acceptance of immoral behavior of others in the police department. You have to know that this is not easy for a woman to do...to face the humiliation and the unjust ridicule and judgment of people like yourself who have no clue. Shame on you and the others who condemn the victim of these horrific offenses and crimes. Frankly, I'm deeply offended that these officers who have victimized Ms. Lessard are being paid a salary "on OUR DIME!" Oh yes, and they'll likely be retiring on our dime as well. Ms. Lessard isn't doing this for financial gain! She is doing this so that your wife, your daughter, your granddaughter, your niece...etc., might never have to face this kind of abhorrent behavior at their workplace.
Michael Theis July 13, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Hey guys, I'm getting some questions about some comments on this thread which disappeared. I don't know exactly what happened, but I can assure you site management did not delete any comments. What I suspect happened is that user HyattsvilleCouldBeBetter deleted some comments for which he was taking criticism, thus deleting all the responses posted in reply.
LauraCuz July 13, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Great article. Thank you for clarifying some of the elements that people were nit-picking apart in from the last one. Now the facts are on record people.
KarenJ July 14, 2012 at 12:27 AM
I agree. Thank You Michael, for being acurate and non-biased in the situation.
Youhavenerve July 14, 2012 at 01:13 AM
Thanks for two great articles on this matter, Michael.
Susan July 14, 2012 at 12:13 PM
Yes it was a great follow up. You can tell you take pride in your reporting Michael.
BigDan July 14, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Not surprising. Hyattsville cops are considered a joke by all the other local departments. A friend is a cop in DC and he said Hyattsville is for cops that flunk out of the PG or DC police academy. A relative of mine had her friend beaten by Hyattsville cops in the parking lot of the middle school (and the courts determined it was brutality). The city is far too concerned with slapping makeup on the pig that is Rt 1 and doesn't give a damn how bad the rest of the city gets.
HyattsvilleCouldBeBetter July 15, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Yeah, I deleted my comments. I'm sorry for all the victims associated with this case. Hopefully something good will come out of it if the trial serves justice correctly.
anonymous July 16, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Of course a DC cop said that. Everyone knows that anyone who barely has a HS diploma can become a DC cop! Have a drug background? Go to DC. Criminal record? DC will hire you. Biggest group of dirty cops around!!!! Nations Capitol? What a joke! Look who runs it! Can't even keep an honest mayor in DC! Trust me, if they flunk out of DC, they're not getting hired anywhere in this area. And which court determined police brutality on that "police beating in a middle school lot"? Better get your facts straight on that one. And I know the officers who background the applicants - they do THOROUGH background investigations. They do not hire anyone who "flunks out" of any other academy - their only screw up on a background recently was hiring this mental case mentioned in this article! This article is completely biased and VERY VERY untrue - you obviously know NOTHING about the background of the complaintant's work and mental history.
Susan July 16, 2012 at 04:15 PM
How come this hasn't made it to the local news?
Truth July 16, 2012 at 04:59 PM
I know her pretty well, and I would say she is the most honest and ethical person I've ever met.
joe July 16, 2012 at 06:57 PM
corption starts at the top , - council handing out raises to selves and bonuses for acting directors $5k every 3 months , the treasurer gets 3% last year when everyone else gets 1% , now she gets 15% while the 99% of staff get 1% again , oh she doesn't even live in md !!!! And no staff clocks in or out up on the hill just the other group- dpw
....1 July 17, 2012 at 10:31 PM
This comment is completely bias, and without merit. Way to try to wage a smear campaign. You should be ashamed of yourself.
Patrick Bosco July 22, 2012 at 01:38 PM
You have no idea what you are talking about. I don't now, nor have I ever worked for Hyattsville, P.D. but I can assure you they are not looked down upon. Your "cop friend" needs to look in the mirror. And post your relative friends info on here, not just a bunch of gossip.

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