Former 911 operator accuses Smyrna cop of sexual harassment

The Smyrna Police Headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia, on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. As Smyrna’s new Chief of Police, Joe Bennett wants to work on hiring new officers and address the increase in the number of traffic-related crashes and fatalities in the city. Bennett was sworn into the new position in February. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)
The Smyrna Police Headquarters in Smyrna, Georgia, on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. As Smyrna’s new Chief of Police, Joe Bennett wants to work on hiring new officers and address the increase in the number of traffic-related crashes and fatalities in the city. Bennett was sworn into the new position in February. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)

A former Smyrna 911 operator has filed a lawsuit against the city’s police chief and a lieutenant charging she was sexually harassed on the job and retaliated against after she reported her supervisor for the harassment.

The woman filed the suit last week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia against Chief Joseph Bennett and Lt. Christopher Flowers. In the lawsuit, she said Flowers subjected her to repeated harassment while on the job and that Bennett and the police department did not take appropriate action after she made the complaints.

The city of Smyrna said in a statement that it can not comment on specific allegations laid out in the lawsuit, but that it takes any allegations seriously and “will continue to investigate these claims and will take action.”

“The city of Smyrna is committed to a safe work environment and has written policies prohibiting harassment of any type,” the city said, adding a violation of policy can lead to discipline as well as termination.

According to the lawsuit, the woman began working as a 911 operator in April 2018. Flowers supervised the department of dispatchers at that time and began subjecting the woman to “severe and pervasive sexual harassment” beginning in October 2018, the lawsuit states.

The lieutenant allegedly asked the woman to send him inappropriate pictures, asked sexual questions via social media platform SnapChat and made suggestive comments about her clothing.

She reported the harassment to a shift supervisor and an anonymous report was submitted to former Police Chief David Lee in April 2019. According to the lawsuit, Flowers' supervisor spoke with him about the allegations, and “defendant Flowers admitted to being sexually inappropriate” with the 911 operator. No action was taken following that complaint, the lawsuit states.

In February, the 911 operator made another complaint to a female supervisor, who asked Bennett if an outside agency could investigate the case. In March, the Sandy Springs Police Department launched an investigation into her complaints and Flowers allegedly admitted to behaving inappropriately with the dispatcher, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, Flowers signed a “Last Chance Agreement” with the city in May, admitting that he violated the city’s harassment policy. He was given a seven-day, 12-hour suspension, removed as supervisor of the 911 Center and agreed to have no contact with the accuser. However, he remains employed with the department. The Smyrna Police Department also launched an investigation against the 911 operator and put her on administrative leave. She later resigned in August from the department, the lawsuit charges.

The Smyrna police chief, Bennett, was appointed interim city administrator in September after the resignation of former administrator Tammi Saddler Jones. Deputy Chief Robert Harvey is the department’s current acting police chief.

Rachel Benjamin, the attorney who is representing the former 911 dispatcher, said the police department was “well aware that this was happening and did nothing about it.” She said the department should terminate the lieutenant’s employment and review the culture of the agency.

“It’s a male-dominated culture that’s tolerated sexual harassment,” she said. “It’s a culture that encourages employees to look the other way...and has no problem with retaliating against people who report these unlawful acts.”

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