On a frigid morning in January 2004, Elisa Diaz stood in her dress blues inside Temple University’s Liacouras Center, proud and sentimental. Graduation Day had finally arrived for the Philadelphia Police Department’s latest cadets. She'd grown up 125 miles away, a small-town girl from the Poconos, but moved to Philly to pursue her lifelong dream, a career in law enforcement.
Now, with Badge Number 4929 pinned below her lapel, she couldn’t wait to embark on her new adventure in one of the largest police departments in the country.
As the festivities wrapped up, she introduced her parents to the inspector who oversaw training at the academy and had been supportive of her: Carl Holmes. He was a human skyscraper, 6-foot-6, close to 300 pounds, a former offensive tackle at Temple.
“We will protect her,” Holmes assured her parents.
That put her mom, Patricia Diaz, at ease. Elisa was 21, the youngest in her class, and Holmes seemed like he could be trusted to look out for her.
Courtesy Patricia Diaz
Elisa Diaz’s January 2004 graduation from the Philadelphia Police Academy was documented by her hometown newspaper, The Pike County Dispatch.
During training, Holmes told Diaz his door would always be open for her. But he also warned, without elaboration, that once assigned to a district, she might experience some “weird s—.”
Diaz assumed he meant that male cops would hit on someone like her — young, slender, attractive. She figured she could tough it out and rebuff any advances; nothing would get in the way of her being a cop.
Holmes was right. Before long, one of Diaz’s bosses was sexually harassing her, even showing up at her house unannounced. She grew scared.
She turned to her cadet mentor for guidance, meeting Holmes in his tiny office at the police academy and confiding her fears. In response, Holmes lifted her onto his desk, forced his tongue in her mouth and groped her breasts, according to a recent grand jury presentment.
Diaz tried to push him off, but at 5-foot-4 and 125 pounds, she was easily overmatched. She pleaded with him to just let her go, swearing she wouldn’t tell anyone. But he grabbed her chin and told her no one would believe “some little bitch.”
As she struggled to break free, he bearhugged her from behind, shoved his hand down her pants, and forced a finger into her vagina.
She fled from his office and frantically dialed her mother. When Patricia Diaz answered, all she heard was the haunting sound of her daughter crying and screaming.
What happened to Diaz in 2004 has remained secret — until now. In the 15 years that her story went untold, Holmes grew more powerful, rising to the rank of chief inspector, while also allegedly assaulting two other female cops.
Courtesy Philadelphia Police Department
Carl Holmes was an inspector at the police academy when he met Diaz in 2003. He assured her parents that the department would take care of their daughter.
Holmes, now 54, and married with two daughters, wasn't some lone wolf, operating in the shadows. His alleged crimes were well known to officials in the Philadelphia Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, and City Hall.
He has long denied ever forcing himself on any female officer. But in October, District Attorney Larry Krasner charged Holmes with sexual assault and related offenses, at the recommendation of a grand jury that heard testimony from at least three of Holmes’ alleged victims, including Diaz.
A deep look into Holmes’ conduct, including recently obtained documents, reveals systemic flaws that shielded him and other top police officials: prosecutors reluctant to hang a case on the word of victims who delayed reporting their assaults; city officials content to look the other way, even as Holmes cost taxpayers more than $1.3 million in lawsuit settlements; and a Police Department that discounts sexual harassment complaints — especially ones filed against commanders — leaving women vulnerable to retaliation.
Holmes’ history also lays bare how “broken” the city’s procedures are for handling complaints of sexual misconduct, says City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, who has called for a single, independent office to be given oversight of sexual harassment investigations involving city employees.
Nowhere were these problems more glaring than in Internal Affairs, where allegations typically come down to a rank-and-file cop’s word against a boss’s. Without eyewitnesses or video or audio evidence, female officers are routinely not believed.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 represents each side, but mostly supports the superior officer, who knows how to offer effective defenses to Internal Affairs investigators: It didn’t happen. Or: It was consensual.
And in the rare instances where punishments are doled out, they’re negligible — and don’t prevent commanders from collecting more promotions, amassing more power.
In fact, some longtime cops have a nickname for Holmes and Teflon bosses like him: The Untouchables.
‘He molested me!’
Elisa Diaz was just 5 years old when she told her parents that she would grow up to be a cop. She was so insistent, they even took her to visit a police cadet school.
Sixteen years later, as a rookie, she was assigned to the 39th District, in the city’s Hunting Park and Nicetown-Tioga sections. In June 2004, Sgt. Randy Davis became Diaz’s supervisor, and asked if she was interested in starting a relationship. Taken aback, she told him no — she’d never get involved with a supervisor. Davis, according to court and police documents, asked if she considered modeling, and offered to take photos of her. He told her he could send them to Playboy.
He made her even more uncomfortable by singling her out for ride-alongs that lasted five hours. On one occasion, as she handed over her log book for his signature, Davis grabbed her hands and started kissing her neck.
She pushed him away and jumped into her patrol car.
Courtesy Patricia Diaz
Elisa Diaz, shown in undated photos in her Philly police uniform, turned to Holmes after she said she was harassed by her boss in the 39th District during her first year on the job. Holmes had warned her that she would encounter "weird s—" once she was assigned to a district.
Then, in August 2004, Davis showed up at Diaz’s house when her parents were there, saying he just happened to be in the neighborhood. After he left, Patricia Diaz could tell her daughter was rattled, and asked: “What’s going on?”
“He won’t leave me alone,” Diaz said. “It’s a nightmare.”
That night, when Diaz showed up for work, Davis accused her of associating with known drug dealers. He assigned her to a different patrol car by herself, and instructed officers to refrain from backing her up on radio calls. Davis would later deny ever sexually harassing Diaz.
Shaken, she turned to her mother for advice. Patricia Diaz suggested she see the tower of a man who promised his help at her graduation, and she agreed to go that day.
“Call me when you get out,” Patricia told Elisa, “and let me know what happened.”
Diaz drove to the police academy, still unsure of how to navigate the Police Department. Holmes, by then a savvy insider, waited in his office.
He’d grown up in Mount Airy, the son of a captain in the Philadelphia Fire Department. Holmes graduated from La Salle College High School in 1983, and landed a football scholarship to Temple University.
Newspapers.com, The Philadelphia Daily News
Holmes attended Temple University on a scholarship, and starred as an offensive tackle on the school’s football team. In 1987, he said he hoped the team’s poor season would be the "worst thing that happens in my life."
As Temple limped through its 1987 season, Holmes told a Daily News reporter: “I hope this [losing season] is the worst thing that happens in my life, but I don’t think it will be.”
Holmes went on to play for the Washington Redskins, but was cut from the team’s practice squad in 1988. Two years later, he joined the police force.
But some aggressiveness from Holmes’ football days spilled into his new career. In the 1990s, the city had to settle three lawsuits against Holmes for physical abuse for a total of $109,500.
In a 1992 case, Holmes was accused of brutally beating a kidney transplant recipient whom he’d caught urinating in a North Philly alley. When the man’s friends told Holmes about his kidney condition, Holmes snapped, “Shut the f— up!”
Holmes denied striking the man, but Internal Affairs sustained the allegations. It recommended that he be considered for “sensitivity training, stress management and a psychological evaluation.”
In a case two years later, Holmes was one of the first officers to arrive on the scene of an armed robbery at a West Philly 7-Eleven, where the suspect had set his gun on the counter to stuff money into bags. Holmes shot the man seven times, even as he lay on the ground.
When paramedics wheeled out the suspect, Holmes shouted, “Die mother f—r, die!”
Newspapers.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Holmes joined the Police Department in 1990. The city would have to settle three lawsuits against Holmes for physical abuse, including an episode detailed by The Inquirer in 1995.
Elisa Diaz knew none of this when she arrived at Holmes’ office. She just needed advice. She explained to Holmes how miserable Davis had made her; she had considered filing an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint.
Holmes cut in. He’d known Davis for years, and they socialized together. He told Diaz it might be better if he and an Internal Affairs inspector tried to talk some sense into Davis.
He cautioned Diaz against filing an EEO complaint. “Prepare for a fight,” he told her.
He told her to write a memo about her problems with Davis. When she stood up to hand him her account, Holmes moved toward her, sandwiching her between two desks. She said he grabbed her with both hands, lifted her onto a desk, and sexually assaulted her. Diaz pushed her foot off the desk, knocking something over, and when Holmes was distracted, she bolted from his office.
She called her mom from her car. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it,” Diaz cried over and over.
“What?” her mother asked. “What?”
“He molested me!”
Her mother was consumed by guilt. “I had suggested she talk to him. She would never have thought of that. I live with it today and I’ll never get over it.”
Holmes’ attorney, Gregory J. Pagano, said his client didn’t sexually assault anyone.
“We are looking forward to our day in court when we can present our very strong defense,” Pagano said. “If he were not a police officer, especially a very high-ranking police officer, I firmly believe he would not be criminally charged.”
As for Elisa Diaz, her suffering wouldn’t end.
By September 2004, the stress from Davis’ ongoing harassment and Holmes’ assault pushed Diaz to her breaking point. She needed to file an EEO complaint.
Could she blow the whistle on both Davis and Holmes?
Diaz mulled her options. She worried that no investigator would believe that two supervisors had subjected her to such horrific treatment. “They would say she was a crazy girl accusing men of everything,” her mom would later explain.
She decided to only mention Davis in her seven-page complaint. The story of what Holmes had done to Diaz would remain secret.
An officer in the police EEO unit began investigating Diaz’s complaint.
A few weeks later, Internal Affairs received an anonymous letter that said Diaz hung out with drug dealers. Then drugs were found abandoned in her trash can outside her home. Internal Affairs cops confiscated her gun and took her off the street.
She was soon transferred to the 35th District, where the captain stuck her with guarding sick or injured prisoners outside their hospital room. The captain told her that he didn’t trust her, or want her around male cops.
ABOUT THE REPORTING This story is based on hundreds of pages of court documents, deposition transcripts, and police records obtained by The Inquirer, as well as recent interviews with former Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey; former District Attorney Lynne Abraham; former Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison; former Assistant District Attorney Deborah Harley; former police Sgt. Randy Davis; Patricia Diaz; more than 25 sources who are familiar with the case, but not permitted to speak about it on the record; past interviews with Christa Hayburn; David Hayburn; Keisha Johnson; Danielle Vales; former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson; the late former Police Commissioner John Timoney.
Many female cops have shared similar stories over the years, in lawsuits and news reports, of being ostracized or detailed to undesirable assignments after they complained about harassment — unofficial payback.
The EEO officer wrote that Davis “did sexually harass Officer Elisa Diaz” but found the most serious complaints against Davis to be inconclusive, citing a familiar refrain: Davis denied the allegations, and there was no corroboration of Diaz’s account.
The Police Department found no evidence that Diaz associated with drug dealers.
Davis was demoted, transferred, and suspended for 10 days. He filed a grievance through the FOP. During an arbitration hearing, the union sided with Davis — saying he has a “proven record of integrity,” and “his professional life has been ruined” — and vilified Diaz.
“The simple and inescapable fact of the matter is that Elisa Diaz is a self-centered, immature and inexperienced person who basically believes that the world should revolve around her,” wrote Thomas G. McConnell Jr., the arbitrator, describing the union’s position.
McConnell ordered the city to rescind Davis’ suspension, demotion and transfer. He returned to the 39th District with full back pay. (Now a criminal justice professor at Valley Forge Military Academy & College, Davis says he never harassed Diaz.)
Diaz’s career, meanwhile, was over.
Another victim, a muted response
Holmes was transferred in 2005 to the East Division, which encompasses parts of North Philly and Kensington. Among the officers he encountered there was Christa Hayburn, a patrol cop in the 25th District.
A year later, Holmes invited Hayburn — who’d been on the force for five years — to join a task force of plainclothes officers assigned to high-crime areas. Hayburn, then 30, was flattered. “I mean this was quite an honor,” Hayburn would later say, “and I looked up to him as a mentor.”
Kylene Clever/Leave It To Me Photography
Christa Hayburn was working as a cop in the 25th District in 2006 when Holmes, then an inspector, recruited her to join a special task force. She looked up to him as a mentor, and accepted the offer.
On Jan. 6, 2006 — three days after Hayburn began the new assignment — the team attended a farewell party for Holmes, who was leaving for a three-month FBI training program.
That night, Hayburn steered her car down a desolate stretch of Luzerne Street in Juniata, past some low-slung warehouses, until she arrived at the Philly Empire Lounge.
After mingling with other cops for a while, Hayburn stepped outside without her coat to take a phone call. Holmes appeared at her side, and led her across the street. “He pulled me in for a kiss, put his arm around me, and told me how much he thought that there was a mutual attraction,” Hayburn would later say.
Hayburn, petite, with brown hair, tried to think of a way to extricate herself. She told Holmes she was cold, and persuaded him to go inside.
She darted into the bathroom and called Rollie Ramos, a friend who was also a cop, and asked: How could she slink out of the club without Holmes seeing her?
Hayburn was still on the phone when suddenly Holmes opened the bathroom door. “Don’t forget to tell me when you’re leaving for the night,” he said.
A few minutes later, she rushed out of the bathroom, grabbed her jacket and keys, and hurried to her car.
She didn’t move fast enough.
Holmes called her name. He pulled her out of her car, and led her into his white city-issued Dodge Durango. He started kissing Hayburn — harder this time — and touched her breasts and rubbed between her thighs.
“This isn’t right,” she told him. “I got to go, my husband’s waiting for me.”
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Hayburn, photographed during a 2012 interview with Philadelphia Daily News, claimed she was assaulted by Holmes in 2006, after she attended a farewell party for him along with other cops in her unit. She was afraid to report her assault to Internal Affairs.
In a motion that mirrored Elisa Diaz’s assault, Holmes shoved his right hand down the back of Hayburn’s pants, she said, and then forced his finger into her vagina. Holmes pulled out his penis and placed Hayburn’s hand on it.
“I have to go,” she pleaded. “This isn’t right. You’re my boss.”
He tried to push her face toward his penis. “I said no,” she’d later recall. “You know, he asked me to just finish him off, because he was leaving and wouldn’t be back for three months, and that it would only take a few minutes.” Holmes ejaculated.
Hayburn fled to her car. She tried to drive away, but began sobbing uncontrollably. She called Ramos, who met her. “I feel so sick,” she told him repeatedly.
She told him of the assault. At home, she repeated the story to her husband, who asked if she wanted to go to the hospital or file a complaint.
“I’m too scared to report it,” she told him.
For the next two years, Holmes cast a shadow over Hayburn’s life. He was part of the Police Department’s upper echelon, and had been featured in an alumni magazine for Widener University’s School of Law, where he’d obtained a law degree in 2003. She was just a cop.
But by February 2008, Hayburn had had enough. She marched into Internal Affairs’ headquarters in the Far Northeast and handed in a complaint form that detailed her assault.
Kylene Clever/Leave It To Me Photography
Hayburn filed a complaint with Internal Affairs in 2008. Her account of the assault she allegedly suffered at Holmes’ hands in 2006 was corroborated by her husband, and another Philly cop. Internal Affairs did not sustain her complaint.
Two investigators interviewed Hayburn, her husband, Ramos and nearly three dozen cops, including some who weren’t even at Holmes’ party. “She had no reason to lie,” a veteran police official familiar with the investigation would later recall. “I completely believed her.”
Two weeks after Hayburn filed her complaint, she met Deborah Harley, the then-chief of the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit in the District Attorney’s Office. Hayburn would later claim that Harley told her that she “didn’t say no enough” during her encounter with Holmes. (Harley, contacted recently by reporters, insisted she never said that.)
The DA’s Office then sent a letter to the Police Department stating that the office wasn’t going to press charges against Holmes. That decision was reached without a prosecutor questioning Holmes, because of a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision that protected public employees from incriminating themselves in an investigation.
When Internal Affairs investigators did finally interview Holmes a month later, he admitted that he’d told Hayburn at the party that he was attracted to her and kissed her in his Durango. “I posed the question as to what she wanted to do,” he said, “[and] as I said, she mentioned the fact that she met my wife and child earlier. I took that as a no.”
Holmes denied attempting to force her to have sex with him, and insisted that he never used his rank to coerce a female cop into having a relationship or liaison with him.
But a forensic team found semen stains in Holmes’ Durango. How could he explain that?
Holmes claimed that another woman had been in his SUV. “I did receive oral sex from this civilian female sometime in the summer of 2007,” he said. “I had sexual intercourse with the same woman outside of the vehicle and then she got back inside the vehicle.”
Internal Affairs investigators on the Christa Hayburn case didn’t press Carl Holmes when he told them that semen in his city-issued vehicle was from an encounter with a civilian woman, not Hayburn, he later testified in a deposition:
Plaintiff’s attorney Steve Console
“So were you asked the question, have you ever had sexual activity in the vehicle?”
“I believe that's how the question may have been posed, yes.”
“And you said yes?”
“I said yes.”
“And did they ask you who you had sexual activity with?”
“They didn't ask you to describe the person?”
“Did you provide any type of contact information so that they could validate your allegation that when you ejaculated in the vehicle it was with Denise?”
Hayburn’s complaint, in contrast, was backed up by her husband and Rollie Ramos, whom she told at the time, but Internal Affairs dismissed it as not sustained.
At that time, one of the top commanders in Internal Affairs was Jerrold Bates, who also oversaw EEO complaints within the department.
A few years later, Bates was accused by his aide, Keisha Johnson, in a lawsuit of coercing her into a sexual relationship. Bates admitted during a deposition that, without Johnson’s permission, he’d sent naked photos of her — including one of him ejaculating on her — to a police captain who was “my buddy.”
Newspapers.com, The Philadelphia Daily News
One of the top commanders in Internal Affairs at the time of Hayburn’s complaint was Jerrold Bates, a staff inspector. He was accused in 2012 of coercing a female aide into a sexual relationship. Bates still works for the Police Department.
“That’s what friends, guys, girls [do], they exchange pictures quite frequently,” Bates said.
The city hired a law firm to investigate Johnson’s claims, but refused to make the findings public, even after settling with her in 2015 for $125,000.
Bates, meanwhile, is still a staff inspector, assigned to the audits and inspections unit.
Newspapers.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer
In 2008, then-Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey demoted Holmes — not for assaulting Hayburn, but for having admitted that he received oral sex from a woman in his city-issued Dodge Durango.
Then-Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey demoted Holmes in 2008 to captain, but not based on Hayburn’s account. Rather, in a memo, Ramsey wrote that receiving oral sex in a city-issued vehicle was “unacceptable” for a police executive. He considered firing Holmes, but took into account his service to the city.
The FOP filed a grievance on Holmes’ behalf. His demotion was reduced in 2010 to a 30-day suspension as part of a settlement between the union and the city. Two years later, Holmes was promoted to chief inspector.
Holmes’ brief punishment came at a time when then-Mayor Michael Nutter was marking a “new day” for city government — one where corruption and abuses of power would supposedly no longer be tolerated.
More than a decade later, Ramsey would argue that because the Police Department’s disciplinary code didn’t prohibit cops from having sex in their city cars, demoting Holmes seemed like his only recourse. “That’s just the reality of it,” he said. “... Once [the DA’s Office] declined to pursue charges, it quite frankly limits your options in terms of any discipline.”
“We demoted him. I don’t think that was nothing,” Everett Gillison, who at the time was Nutter’s deputy mayor for public safety, would later recall.
But why didn’t the DA’s office press charges?
Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, a self-described advocate for sexual assault survivors, wrote in a recent email to The Inquirer that it was “an outrage that Carl Holmes was permitted to be a sexual predator by the same institution that is supposed to ‘serve and protect.’”
STEPHANIE AARONSON / File Photograph
Under then-District Attorney Lynne Abraham, the DA’s Office declined in 2008 to press charges against Holmes for assaulting Christa Hayburn. Abraham would later argue that Hayburn had waited too long to file a complaint.
But Abraham also contended that Hayburn’s two-year delay in filing a complaint had been problematic.
“Hayburn … knew if she tried to bring a criminal charge against Holmes, her career in the PPD would be over. That is why she never complained until it was virtually too late,” Abraham wrote. “Too bad.”
Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for reporting sexual assault, however, is 12 years, plus an additional eight years if the assault is perpetrated by a “public officer.”
Abraham also claimed that Hayburn had received a settlement from the city, and theorized that a defense lawyer could have argued that Hayburn “was only in it for the money,” or that she was “a person of loose morals” because she was married and at a bar at night.
Hayburn, however, never received money from the city.
And she wasn’t the only woman to talk to Internal Affairs in 2008 about Holmes.
The man at the bar
On March 20 — almost three weeks before Holmes was interviewed about Christa Hayburn’s claims — Internal Affairs investigators met a 37-year-old Chestnut Hill woman who had her own disturbing story.
She told investigators that one night in 2006, she went to Tavern on the Hill on Germantown Avenue, and ordered a drink at the bar.
A man soon wedged himself into the chair next to her. He was tall, black, had a mustache, and wore wire-rim glasses.
She left her drink on the bar and went to the bathroom. When she returned, she suddenly felt unwell, and headed to the restroom again. When she came back, her keys — which she had left on the bar — were missing.
The man sitting next to her offered her a ride home. She declined. She started to walk to her house, a block and a half away.
Within moments, she realized that the man from the bar was slowly following her in a large, white SUV. He rolled down the window, and implored her to get in. Terrified, she rushed into her house and told her husband what happened. He looked outside, but the SUV was gone.
The couple didn’t report it at the time. “I really should have,” the woman told investigators, “but I didn’t.”
A few weeks later, the woman and her husband were at a nearby bar when she noticed a large guy walk in — the same one who’d followed her home from the Tavern. A bartender later told the couple that the man with the mustache was a high-ranking cop.
The Internal Affairs investigators presented the woman with a photo lineup of eight police officers, all of whom were black, had mustaches, and wore glasses. She circled the face of the one she recognized.
It was Carl Holmes.
Questioned about the woman’s account, Holmes told Internal Affairs that he’d been at the Tavern, and remembered a woman who lost her keys. But he hadn’t followed her.
The woman’s allegations didn’t result in any action.
Meanwhile, Holmes’ unusual behavior would continue to raise concerns at several bars in Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy.
These are the words of bartenders and owners in the area who described having watched Holmes walk in and survey their establishments for women who were alone. If he didn’t find any, he might leave without buying a drink. Sometimes, Holmes just peered in the window.
One bar owner said she even posted a photo of Holmes as a warning for employees to be on the alert if he came through the door.
A million dollar assault?
Michele Vandegrift came from a family of Philadelphia cops — her father, Thomas Lauf, was a detective, and her brother, Brian Lauf, was a patrol officer.
In 2004, at the age of 22, Vandegrift joined the police academy, and met a guy her father had mentioned fondly in old stories he shared: Carl Holmes.
“My dad thought the world of him. He thought the world of my dad, which was so touching to me,” she’d later recall. “He was like an uncle type.”
After she graduated, Vandegrift was assigned to the 24th District, in East Division, where Holmes was the inspector.
Michele Vandegrift, who settled a lawsuit with the city for $1.25 million, said Carl Holmes sexually assaulted her in his office. The head of Internal Affairs did not forward the case to the District Attorney’s Office.
In 2006 — the same year that Holmes promoted Christa Hayburn — Vandegrift noticed that Holmes was paying close attention to her around the office. At first, it seemed harmless.
But then he began calling Vandegrift, too, saying he fantasized about her. “I would love to bend you over,” Holmes told Vandegrift.
She laughed, embarrassed. She wondered if rejecting Holmes could hurt her career. “This man has strong sexual feelings, and he’s aggressive with it and what am I going to do? … He’s the boss of my captain, my lieutenant, my sergeant, my corporal. He’s the top guy.”
Vandegrift was working an overnight shift in early 2007 when Holmes summoned her to his office. She walked to the second floor with a sense of dread. Holmes was at his desk, wearing an Eagles jersey and smoking a cigarette. He made small talk at first, then commented on her thighs. He walked toward her.
“I want to know how wet you are,” he said.
Vandegrift would later say she felt like “a deer in headlights,” unable to move as Holmes inched closer. He shoved his hand down her pants, and pushed a finger into her vagina.
“He pulled his hand out and tasted his finger,” Vandegrift would later tell an Internal Affairs investigator, “and said it tasted good.”
She stumbled out of his office.
Vandegrift, like Hayburn and Diaz before her, didn’t know what to do. She, too, tried to bury the trauma of the assault, only to find that it became overwhelming.
In 2014, she filed an EEO complaint that outlined multiple years’ worth of sexual harassment that she said she’d suffered at the hands of male colleagues, including not only Holmes but an inspector named Anthony Washington.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Inspector Anthony Washington was given oversight of the police Special Victims Unit in December 2018, even though he’d been accused in the past of sexually harassing female cops and a local college student.
Like Bates and Holmes, Washington had been the subject of news coverage for the way he allegedly treated women. At least four female cops and a female Temple University student had accused him of sexual harassment, and the city had spent $198,000 to settle five lawsuits against him.
And Washington, too, continued to be promoted, eventually overseeing the department’s Special Victims Unit for nearly a year, despite outcry from advocates for sexual assault victims.
Vandegrift would be shunned by her male peers and transferred to less desirable posts.
She would later say that male cops grouped female officers into three categories: the “female that complains, the rat, the one who breaks the code of silence, the one you cannot trust. You’re a whore; you just f— everybody. You’re a lesbian; you’re butch.”
Internal Affairs Lt. Raymond Saggese, assigned to investigate Vandegrift’s allegation about Holmes, would later claim he didn’t know about Hayburn’s case specifically, but was aware Holmes had previously been accused of sexual misconduct.
Saggese recommended that Vandegrift’s case be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for review, only to be overruled by his boss, Chief Inspector Chris Flacco. “He denied it,” Saggese would explain.
(Flacco declined to comment.)
In 2016, Vandegrift sued the city alleging she had been subjected to “gross, degrading, and systematic sexual harassment.”
That November, Holmes walked in the Center City office of Vandegrift’s attorney, Steve Console. Dressed in full police regalia, he was deposed for three hours.
Console hit Holmes with questions that were tougher than he’d faced from Internal Affairs. He asked Holmes to identify the mystery woman from the Chestnut Hill encounter that led to the semen stains in his Durango.
Capt. Carol Abrams, who oversaw the Equal Employment Opportunity unit in Internal Affairs, responds in a deposition to questions about Carl Holmes:
Plaintiff’s attorney Caren Gurmankin
“Are you aware in this case that two women, including Detective Vandegrift, have alleged that Holmes sexually assaulted them, including on both occasions inserting his fingers into both women's vaginas, have you heard that?”
“Does that upset you, that two women have testified under oath that Holmes engaged in similar conduct with them?”
“I'm not sure where you're going with that. I've seen kids dead in the street. That upsets me.”
“I’m just asking you —”
“That’s what I'm saying. I don’t see the relevance of that question.”
“I’m just asking if as a female member of the police department —”
“As a female member of the department, because it's a female member of the department, I wouldn’t allow that to happen to me, so no, that doesn’t — no.”
“To the best of my knowledge, the woman’s name was Denise,” he finally said.
Holmes testified that he had met her at a Northwest Philadelphia bar, and got together with her eight to 10 times for future sexual encounters, sometimes at her home. But he claimed he didn’t know the woman’s last name, phone number, or address.
The city would settle Vandegrift’s case for $1.25 million in March 2017.
A federal judge who oversaw the case wrote in a memo that Vandegrift “has provided sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude the City knew of its specific problems with sexual assault and harassment in the police department … but did nothing to stop such conduct.”
The city attempted to silence Vandegrift by inserting a nondisclosure clause in her settlement agreement.
A year later, in one of his first moves as the city’s new district attorney, Larry Krasner overhauled the way his office investigated public corruption, including police misconduct.
Under his predecessors, sexual assault cases involving police officers were handled by the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit, whose prosecutors regularly worked side-by-side with police officers. To avoid potential conflicts, police cases would be handled by a separate Special Investigations Unit.
Prosecutors in the new unit began combing through documents attached to the Vandegrift case, and were startled.
“Everybody knew,” a source familiar with the Holmes investigation said of his alleged crimes, “and nobody did anything.”
That would soon change.
Elisa Diaz became a shell of her former self in the aftermath of her assault.
She developed post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, severe anxiety, and insomnia. She saw a psychiatrist who prescribed medications.
Diaz stayed on the police force, but suffered a knee injury during a foot pursuit that required surgery. The department said she didn’t seek an extension of her medical leave, and fired her for not returning to work.
Courtesy Patricia Diaz
Elisa Diaz was fired from the Police Department after suffering a knee injury while on the job. She returned to Philadelphia for the first time earlier this year to testify in front of a grand jury that was investigating Carl Holmes.
She moved back to her parents’ home in Pike County. Diaz cut off her long, brown hair, sported a red mohawk, and got tattoos all over her body.
“She’d lost everything. She came home with nothing. No job. No place to live. No nothing,” her mother would recall.
In 2018, Diaz happened across news articles about Holmes, and discovered that he had been accused of assaulting other female cops. She contacted Christa Hayburn on Facebook.
Diaz apologized to Hayburn; she believed that if she had spoken out in 2004 about what Holmes had done, Hayburn might have been spared from her 2006 assault. She still carries the guilt.
“This is not your fault,” Hayburn would assure Diaz. “Don’t hold it in your heart.”
Earlier this year, in April, a detective in the District Attorney’s office called Hayburn and said city prosecutors were investigating Holmes. She immediately connected the detective with Diaz.
The DA’s Office empaneled an investigating grand jury. Over the summer, Diaz, Hayburn, and Vandegrift each testified before the grand jury’s 30 members.
It was torturous. Vandegrift told the jurors that she didn’t want them to see her as a victim; she’d always tried to be strong. “I’m struggling with my life,” she said.
While the grand jury was digging into Holmes’ case, the city was stunned by the Aug. 20 resignation of Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who was accused in a lawsuit of retaliating against a female cop who had ended their affair.
Ross denied the woman’s claims. But to many observers, his sudden resignation proved that a culture of misconduct leached throughout the entire department, even up to the commissioner’s office.
He wouldn’t be the last domino to fall.
The grand jury concluded that the vivid, horrific allegations described by Diaz, Hayburn, and Vandegrift more than met the standard for criminal charges, and recommended that Krasner’s office indict Holmes. “... No one, no matter position, rank, or power, is above the law,” its members wrote in their presentment.
On Oct. 23, detectives told Holmes to report to Internal Affairs by 8 a.m. the next day. He arrived, looking tired and worn, in plain clothes with an attorney at his side.
Carl Holmes was arrested in late October and charged with aggravated indecent assault without consent and seven other charges, which could bring him more than 50 years in prison if he’s convicted.
This time, he couldn’t talk his way out.
Holmes was charged with eight offenses, including aggravated indecent assault and attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. He was suspended for 30 days with the intent to dismiss.
He surrendered his badge and gun. A cop drove the handcuffed Holmes in a wagon to a detention unit inside police headquarters at Eighth and Race Streets, a building he used to regularly traverse in uniform.
The next afternoon, he posted 10 percent of his $850,000 bail. On Nov. 8, he retired, allowing him to collect a monthly pension of $7,607.
Holmes has a preliminary hearing set for Jan. 16; the FOP has declined to defend him. In the meantime, he’s living in a four-bedroom home with a wrought iron fence, worth more than $500,000, in a quiet, leafy section of Roxborough.
If he goes to trial and is found guilty, Carl Holmes — once an Untouchable — could face up to 50 years behind bars.
The Inquirer's investigative reporting is supported in part by The Lenfest Institute’s Investigative News Fund. Editorial content is created independently of the Fund’s donors. A listing of Lenfest Institute donors can be found at lenfestinstitute.org. Gifts to support the Investigative News Fund can be made at www.inquirer.com/donate.
This story is based on hundreds of pages of court documents, deposition transcripts, and police records obtained by The Inquirer, as well as recent interviews with former Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey; former District Attorney Lynne Abraham; former Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison; former Assistant District Attorney Deborah Harley; former police Sgt. Randy Davis; Patricia Diaz; more than 25 sources who are familiar with the case, but not permitted to speak about it on the record; past interviews with Christa Hayburn; David Hayburn; Keisha Johnson; Danielle Vales; former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson; the late former Police Commissioner John Timoney.