Lawrenceville PD mired in sexual harassment scandal

Officer chosen to lead the department publicly acknowledges his own record of indiscretions

Lawrenceville’s police chief Tim Wallis, who took command in 2018, appeared to be moving the department into the 21st century, touting the promotion of women and minorities into leadership roles.

But behind the façade of progress, women in the agency endured a culture of sexism and humiliation, as men’s transgressions were often overlooked, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.

Last month, it all unraveled.

An internal investigation conducted by an outside law firm was released publicly and revealed a climate of sexual harassment that had persisted for years. Several experts in law enforcement leadership reviewed the firm’s 33-page report for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and said it illustrates the challenges many women still face in law enforcement agencies across the country.

“Clearly they have a very, very unhealthy culture throughout that department,” said Richard W. Myers, a national law enforcement management consultant and former chief who has helped turn around several police agencies. “This is a leadership crisis.”

The scandal cost Wallis his job as the city announced his resignation on Feb. 1. A member of his command staff, Capt. Ryan Morgan, announced his retirement in December as the investigation was centering on him. The report concluded both men sexually harassed the female officer who filed the complaint. While both men have denied they sexually harassed anyone, they delivered their resignations after meeting with City Manager Chuck Warbington.

“It falls on the city manager to fix this,” Myers said.

To that end, Warbington has tapped Maj. Myron Walker to take over as the city’s acting police chief. The AJC has learned that Walker has his own history of trouble with sexual transgressions on the job, a record that Warbington was aware of when Walker was hired four years ago.

Records obtained by the AJC show that three years before Wallis recruited him to Lawrenceville, Walker faced discipline and was demoted at the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office over a long-term affair with a subordinate at that agency. Walker had worked for the sheriff’s office for more than two decades.

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An internal investigation conducted by an outside law firm was released publicly and revealed a climate of sexual harassment that had persisted for years at the Lawrenceville Police Department. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

An internal investigation conducted by an outside law firm was released publicly and revealed a climate of sexual harassment that had persisted for years at the Lawrenceville Police Department. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
An internal investigation conducted by an outside law firm was released publicly and revealed a climate of sexual harassment that had persisted for years at the Lawrenceville Police Department. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Walker, who was married, had sex in a county sheriff’s vehicle and inside county offices with the woman, according to a sheriff’s internal investigation. Walker admitted to using his county-issued cell phone to receive graphic photos from the woman.

In late 2014, the woman threatened to tell Walker’s wife about the affair, so he did that himself and then went to the woman’s house to talk. That’s when a domestic dispute erupted between the two and police were summoned to the home, records show.

“There are many accusations that would rise to the level of criminal activity that were not corroborated,” a sheriff’s major concluded in a January 2015 memo that summarized the investigation. “Even without those incidents being verified there were many confirmed events that were disturbing.”

In addition to Walker being demoted from sergeant to corporal, the state police certification agency threatened to rescind his officer certification, records show. The Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council placed his certification on a 12-month probationary period, records show.

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Lawrenceville Police Captain Ryan Morgan, left, celebrated his retirement in late December with the agency's assistant chief, Major Myron Walker, right. Morgan informed the city of his decision to retire the night before he was set to be interviewed by an independent investigator looking into sexual harassment within the agency.

Credit: Facebook

Lawrenceville Police Captain Ryan Morgan, left, celebrated his retirement in late December with the agency's assistant chief, Major Myron Walker, right. Morgan informed the city of his decision to retire the night before he was set to be interviewed by an independent investigator looking into sexual harassment within the agency.

Credit: Facebook

Combined ShapeCaption
Lawrenceville Police Captain Ryan Morgan, left, celebrated his retirement in late December with the agency's assistant chief, Major Myron Walker, right. Morgan informed the city of his decision to retire the night before he was set to be interviewed by an independent investigator looking into sexual harassment within the agency.

Credit: Facebook

Credit: Facebook

Three years after Walker had been disciplined at the sheriff’s office, Wallis hired him to be his 2nd in command in Lawrenceville and made him the first Black command staff member in the agency’s history.

On Thursday morning, as the AJC was preparing to publish this story, Maj. Walker held a press conference at the police department headquarters to publicly acknowledge the sexual misconduct while he was employed by the Gwinnett sheriff. For days, he and other city officials had asked the AJC not to publish this information.

“I thought I had did my time and I thought I received my punishment for what I did, and I did those things,” he said. “I’m here just to move us forward and to heal our department. That’s what we need now. We need our community with us, but in order for us to heal, we’ve got to stop having the reports.”

Audio: The full press conference with Myron Walker on Feb. 10, 2022

Warbington, the city manager, said he conducted his own review of Walker’s past troubles four years ago and agreed with the decision to hire him in April 2018. He said Walker deserved a second chance.

“We all make bad judgments,” said Warbington. “We all make poor choices in our life.”

‘I owned it’

The female captain who filed the harassment complaint told the outside investigator last November that personal relationships ran deep among men inside the Lawrenceville department and within the city administration. Wallis, Walker and another senior officer had known each other since they worked together at the sheriff’s office in the 1990s.

Walker and the city manager went to high school together at Dacula High. They both played on the school’s football and basketball teams. Warbington said that history has not influenced his view of Walker and he believes he’s the right man to lead the agency at this moment.

“Myron, since he’s been here, he’s been a model leader,” Warbington said. “And even after his issue (at the sheriff’s office), my understanding from the sheriff’s department, he was a model officer at the time.”

Our Reporting

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution started reporting in early January on sexual harassment allegations at the Lawrenceville Police Department. The AJC’s reporters requested records from the city, which initially denied the existence of an internal investigation report that was completed on Dec. 28. The AJC broke the story of the sexual harassment scandal on Jan. 26 and followed up with a report that showed how the city manager and mayor wrote reference letters for a police captain while he was under investigation for harassment. Anyone with information about harassment in Lawrenceville or any other metro Atlanta-area police department or city government can contact AJC reporters Asia Simone Burns (Asia.Burns@ajc.com or (404) 873-9022 or Johnny Edwards (johnny.edwards@ajc.com) or 404-526-7209.

For his part, Walker had previously told the AJC he doesn’t see what the events seven years ago have to do with his leadership of Lawrenceville PD today. He said he wasn’t accused of sexual harassment at the sheriff’s office, rather he made a “horrible mistake.” He said he took his punishment, went to counseling to save his family and worked hard to get is career back on track.

“I owned it,” Walker said. “It was just not a good time in my life. And with outside help, and my family, we’ve come out on the other side better.”

Gwinnett sheriff’s Major K.L. Williamson said Walker’s actions had eroded confidence in his “character and judgment,” according to a January 2015 memo. He said that if Walker’s conduct ever became public it would damage the confidence citizens have in the sheriff’s office.

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Lawrenceville City Manager Chuck Warbington, seen here in 2016, tapped Maj. Myron Walker to take over as the city’s acting police chief. “Myron, since he’s been here, he’s been a model leader,” Warbington said. “And even after his issue (at the sheriff’s office), my understanding from the sheriff’s department, he was a model officer at the time.”

Lawrenceville City Manager Chuck Warbington, seen here in 2016, tapped Maj. Myron Walker to take over as the city’s acting police chief.  “Myron, since he’s been here, he’s been a model leader,” Warbington said. “And even after his issue (at the sheriff’s office), my understanding from the sheriff’s department, he was a model officer at the time.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Lawrenceville City Manager Chuck Warbington, seen here in 2016, tapped Maj. Myron Walker to take over as the city’s acting police chief. “Myron, since he’s been here, he’s been a model leader,” Warbington said. “And even after his issue (at the sheriff’s office), my understanding from the sheriff’s department, he was a model officer at the time.”

“This was not a momentary indiscretion or a temporary lapse in judgment,” the major’s memo said. “This investigation revealed a patterned flaw in decision making and discernment.”

Shamus Smith, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York City Police Department officer, reviewed the internal investigative report on Lawrenceville for the AJC. He said it reveals what women are up against within the “good ol’ boy” networks of police departments. Asked if someone with Walker’s record should be leading the department, he said, “That’s a hard no.

“I just don’t think it’s a good look,” Smith said. “You need somebody who is fresh, maybe even an outsider. Maybe not a far outsider, but somebody from another department, and preferably bringing in a female.”

Barriers for women

The Lawrenceville internal investigation identified a good ol’ boy network in its police department that went back years and persisted in certain corners.

Allegations swirled of romantic entanglements, leading to tension among the top ranks. Chief Wallis’s wife was accused of interfering in department business. Chief Wallis told the female captain she looked like she worked at Hooters when she wore a t-shirt on a day the air conditioning went out. The AJC is not naming the female captain because it has a policy of not identifying victims of sexual harassment without their consent.

Capt. Morgan allegedly told an executive assistant, “You suck as a secretary. What good are you?” Some female officers and employees were so distrusting of their male counterparts that one put tape over a security camera in the department’s gym so the men couldn’t watch the women work out, according to records in the female captain’s personnel file.

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Lawrenceville Police Chief Tim Wallis has opted to retire this month, following an internal investigation into sexual harassment within his department.

Credit: Lawrencevillega.org

Lawrenceville Police Chief Tim Wallis has opted to retire this month,  following an internal investigation into sexual harassment within his department.

Credit: Lawrencevillega.org

Combined ShapeCaption
Lawrenceville Police Chief Tim Wallis has opted to retire this month, following an internal investigation into sexual harassment within his department.

Credit: Lawrencevillega.org

Credit: Lawrencevillega.org

Walker did not emerge from the investigation unscathed. Even though he wasn’t accused of sexual harassment, he was still given verbal counseling, the city’s lowest form of discipline.

The verbal counseling was because he failed to look more closely and document some of Capt. Morgan’s conduct; because he discussed the internal investigation within the department as it was being conducted by the outside law firm; and for failing to take action on a report of sexual harassment in the department, according to Walker’s attorney, Mike Puglise, who he has hired to help clear his name.

ExploreLawrenceville mayor, city manager wrote letters praising police captain accused of sexual harassment

Walker has denied that the female captain told him she was being sexually harassed. He had her sign a memo on Jan. 26, declaring she had never reported some specific incidents to him.

The AJC emailed the female captain for comment, but she deferred questions to Warbington who has put a gag order on her and other employees to prevent them from speaking publicly about the scandal.

What the female captain and other women endured in Lawrenceville is emblematic of struggles women in law enforcement experience across the country, according to experts on sexual harassment. It’s one of many reasons so few women choose law enforcement as a career, experts said.

ExploreLawrenceville police chief calling it quits after sexual harassment allegations

In 1985, women made up less than 10% of uniformed officers in Georgia, according to FBI crime data reports. In 2020, the figure had climbed to only 18%, which is slightly better than 13% of females in uniform nationwide.

An AJC analysis of POST data found that of the Lawrenceville department’s 70 officers, only four are women. Two hold supervisory positions, records show.

One of them is the female captain, the first woman to hold that role in the department’s history. The other is a sergeant who was promoted to a supervisory position last September.

Both experienced the sexist culture upon being promoted. The sergeant told the internal investigator that she had heard people say they would not work for a female supervisor. According to the investigative report, Morgan told the female captain that her promotion was going to be “entertaining,” and she was “pretty to look at every day.” He also sometimes referred to her as “hooker” and asked her to send photos of her breasts to his cell phone.

This type of harassment is still all-too-common in some male-dominated police agencies and has deterred many capable women from entering the profession, said Maureen McGough, chief of staff for the New York University School of Law’s Policing Project. Studies show more than half of female cops surveyed have experienced sexual harassment, she said.

“We believe the underrepresentation of women in policing is a public safety crisis,” said McGough, who is also co-founder of an initiative called 30x30, which aims to make departments 30% female by 2030. “It’s not necessarily seen as a profession where women would be welcomed, or that their success would be supported.”