A day after resigning amid claims that he retaliated against a woman who had ended an affair with him, former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said Wednesday that he has “never sought retribution” on anyone, and Mayor Jim Kenney tried to explain why the abrupt departure of his highly regarded police chief was in the city’s “best interest.”
In remarks to reporters outside Police Headquarters, and in a subsequent interview with The Inquirer, Ross said he was not forced out, but chose to resign to avoid creating a “distraction” for the department he led for 3½ years.
“Given everything else that we’re dealing with in the city … I thought it would be a distraction for the department to have to deal with this particular [issue] as it relates to me,” Ross told The Inquirer. “I just thought it was in the best interest of all concerned, the community, the mayor, and the police officers, to move on.”
His comments came in the wake of a lawsuit from a police corporal who claims he ignored her sexual harassment complaint against another officer, in part because she had broken off a two-year affair with Ross in 2011.
At a news conference at City Hall, Kenney said he thought Ross’ resignation was the “best course of action for the department” given the allegations against him, and continued to praise Ross for three decades of service to the city.
“I think he made the right decision for the department and the city” by resigning, Kenney said.
The allegations and resignation have shocked a city already reeling from last week’s violent standoff in Tioga in which six cops were shot — an incident in which Ross played a key role in resolving, and which led Kenney to describe him as the nation’s best police commissioner.
At his news conference, Kenney also introduced the interim commissioner, Christine Coulter, the first woman to lead the department. She told reporters: “I have always been honored, as both a woman and a police officer, to serve the city, and I look forward to doing that moving forward.”
In their public remarks, both Kenney and Ross declined to address specific allegations in the lawsuit filed by Cpl. Audra McCowan and Patrol Officer Jennifer Allen. The women claim they received harassing calls at home from colleagues and subordinates, were groped while at work, and were belittled and transferred to less-desirable jobs when they complained, among other allegations. They say the harassment against them, which allegedly occurred repeatedly over nearly a decade, is part of a “well-settled custom” of sexual harassment that permeates the department.
Kenney and Ross said they had known about the general accusations in the complaint after it was filed in federal court in Philadelphia in late July. But they said they learned only Monday, when an amended complaint was filed, about specific allegations against Ross.
In that filing, McCowan claimed that Ross told her earlier this year that he would seek to prevent action from being taken on her harassment complaints against a male coworker “in retribution for breaking off their two-year affair” of 2009-11.
Kenney said Ross on Monday night submitted his resignation letter, but the mayor refused to accept it. Kenney said he was traveling at the time and wanted to return to the city and consult aides on how to move forward.
On Tuesday, Ross again insisted on resigning, Kenney said. After learning more about what had been newly alleged, the mayor said, he believed Ross was making the right decision.
“It was an appropriate time for him to move on,” Kenney said.
He praised Ross’ leadership of the 6,500-member department, citing in particular how it handled large events, including the Democratic National Convention in 2016, the 2017 NFL Draft, and the Eagles’ Super Bowl parade last year.
Ross declined Wednesday to comment on the litigation, but said that he was not a vindictive person, and that “everyone who knows me knows that’s not my character.”
“I have never, ever gunned for anyone in my 55 years on this Earth or my 30-year career,” Ross told The Inquirer. “That’s just the reality.”
He told reporters he was not sure what he would do next. He immediately becomes eligible for a pension that will pay him $13,003 per month, a city spokesperson said.
Ross expressed support for Coulter, saying he was “very happy about the choice” of his interim successor, citing her experience, leadership skills, and work ethic.
“I hope that people give her a fair shot to really do what I know she can do,” he said.
McCowan and Allen had been scheduled to attend a hearing on their lawsuit in federal court Wednesday afternoon. But in an order filed hours before the proceeding, U.S. District Judge Joel Slomsky canceled the court date and cemented an agreement between the city and the women that their jobs or hours would not be changed while their lawsuit plays out.
Inside the Police Department on Wednesday, Coulter convened the daily meeting of top brass in the conference room next to the commissioner’s office. Coulter usually led it in Ross’ absence, a law enforcement source said, and on Wednesday she sat in the commissioner’s chair.
Ross entered the room at one point, wearing a blue suit and tie. He thanked those in the room for their service, the source said. When he finished, he excused himself, telling commanders he had to clean out his office.