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Pa. state police paid $8 million to settle claims against troopers

As more women step forward about being victims of sexual harassment at the hands of powerful figures in Congress and state legislatures across the United States, the settlements bring renewed attention to an agency that has received almost no scrutiny in the ongoing national #metoo conversation.

HARRISBURG — The state has paid nearly $8 million to settle more than a dozen sexual harassment and misconduct lawsuits against Pennsylvania State Police troopers since 2001, records obtained by the Caucus weekly newspaper show.

And at least four more pending cases could result in additional taxpayer-funded payouts, including a rape allegation against an unnamed trooper.

The allegations that resulted in settlements ranged from physical assault and battery to sexual discrimination and retaliation at the hands of troopers and, more broadly, state police employees being forced to work in a hostile work environment.

The plaintiffs in those settlements include female state police employees across many ranks, including a clerk, troopers, a sergeant, vice corporal and lieutenant colonel. The state police did not admit to wrongdoing in any of the cases. The terms of the agreements prevent both the state police and the accusers from speaking publicly about their cases.

As more women step forward about being victims of sexual harassment at the hands of powerful figures in Congress and  legislatures across the United States, the settlements bring renewed attention to an agency that has received almost no scrutiny in the ongoing national #MeToo conversation. The state police, whose workforce is 95 percent male, was the subject of a 2003 Office of Inspector General investigation of sexual harassment by troopers.

The Caucus used federal, state and county court records, some obtained under the state's Right-to-Know law, to identify settlement payouts by the state police in cases where sexual harassment and misconduct were alleged.

In all, the records show, the agency has settled at least 18 sexual harassment and discrimination cases since 2001. Most payments ranged from $5,000 to $435,000. But the agency also paid $6.3 million between 2001 and 2004 to settle claims against a single trooper, Michael K. Evans, who in a widely publicized case was convicted in Montgomery County of numerous sex crimes. Evans, of Mertzville, Berks County, served about eight years in prison.

The nearly $8 million does not include a Philadelphia federal jury's $250,000 verdict against the state police this month for not taking prompt and appropriate action to stop or prevent the sexual harassment levied against a female trooper.

State police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski, responding to inquiries about the settlements, issued a statement that read: "We are confident that our members and civilian employees receive the proper training in how to prevent, identify and report misconduct. Every allegation is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.

"When warranted, prompt and appropriate corrective and/or disciplinary action is taken against the trooper or civilian employee involved," said Tarkowski. "Although specific actions against individual employees are confidential personnel matters, they may range from three-day suspension to termination. In some cases, a terminated trooper has to be reinstated due to the decision of an arbitrator."

He also said the settlement agreements "are not entered into lightly."

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who has described as "outrageous" the use of taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment claims against elected officials, said he is preparing to meet with his staff "to develop a broader strategy on how we can review sexual harassment policies and any settlements across state agencies."

Still, the volume and severity of the allegations against troopers in recent years raises serious questions about the work atmosphere inside the agency.

"If you keep hiring the same type of men — the alpha male — what comes with that type of personality is this misconduct," said Bucks County employment lawyer Brian Puricelli, who represented the corporal who won her case in Philadelphia this month.

Pittsburgh employment lawyer Susan Mahood, who has represented clients in employment discrimination against the state police for nearly two decades and has two pending cases against the agency, said things haven't changed much for women.

"I cannot say in 20 years I have seen significant progress," Mahood said.

Philadelphia attorney Mary McDaniel, 56, a former state trooper, said she was sexually harassed "from day one" after beginning work for the agency in Lancaster in the 1980s. She did not reveal the harassment until the #MeToo movement gained momentum this year.

Writing for the New York Times, McDaniel said she did not speak up sooner because she worried about retaliation.

"I did not report it because other women who reported were called 'sluts,' given bad work assignments, and some male troopers refused to ride partner with them … I wish I had spoken up. I quit the police force after four years due to the constant harassment. They effectively drove me out. This was in the 1980s but little has changed," she wrote last week.

Others have reported similar harassment.

One female employee alleged that her male supervisor and two male troopers referred to her by sexually derogatory terms, discussed sexual promiscuity and sexual desires, made sexual gestures, and touched her inappropriately and without her permission while she was stationed in McConnellsburg, Fulton County, in 2005 and 2006. She filed suit, and the state police settled the case for $435,000 — one of the largest payouts — in 2012, the records show. (Like the Inquirer and Daily News, the Caucus does not identify victims or alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent.)

In another case, a female clerk typist at the Butler barracks alleged in 2008 that a corporal there "would make suggestive and offensive remarks and engage in suggestive and offensive conduct without her permission, and handcuffed her to the steering wheel of her vehicle." The state police settled the federal lawsuit and paid $42,500.

Four pending lawsuits filed by women against the state police allege similar harassment.

In one, a federal case scheduled for trial in Scranton in February, a trooper has alleged "a severe and pervasive hostile work environment" at two different barracks. Emails cited in court records show a male trooper asked the female trooper about her "tan lines," referred to her as a "kitten," and pulled her onto his lap in the workplace.

In another pending case, a female dispatcher alleges she was raped and sexually harassed by an unnamed trooper in 2013 at the Blooming Grove, Pike County, barracks. She also contends state police officials tried to suppress the claims because they wanted to protect the reputation of the agency and the trooper. The case is pending before federal Judge Robert Mariani in Scranton.

In the Philadelphia case resolved last week, a jury sided with a female corporal who alleged she was repeatedly harassed by a male trooper whom she had previously dated while employed at the Trevose barracks in Bucks County. The corporal stated in her complaint that she told her supervisors about the harassment repeatedly, but they did nothing to solve the problem.

The corporal obtained a two-year protection-from-abuse order against the trooper, who is no longer stationed at that barracks. The trooper, who was initially named as a defendant in the suit but was later dropped from the case, did not return a telephone message seeking comment. The corporal is now stationed in Philadelphia.

J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Gov. Wolf, said the administration was aware of the verdict against the state police but could provide no further information about the case.

"Gov. Wolf finds sexual harassment reprehensible and has made it clear to his staff and cabinet that it is unacceptable," Abbott said. "While every large organization will have bad actors, we trust that the vast majority of state employees, including troopers, live up to high standards and respect their fellow employees."

Spokesmen for the state police and the attorney general said their offices were reviewing the verdict and assessing legal options.

Reporter Mike Wereschagin contributed from Pittsburgh.

The Caucus is a weekly watchdog newspaper printed by LNP Media Group in Lancaster, which also publishes the daily newspaper LNP\ and LancasterOnline.