Lawrenceville police chief suspended over sexual harassment claims

Chief Tim Wallis became chief at Lawrenceville Police Department in 2018 after two decades with the agency.

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Chief Tim Wallis became chief at Lawrenceville Police Department in 2018 after two decades with the agency.

A sexual harassment investigation in Lawrenceville has led to disciplinary action against the top two officers in the police department, including Chief Tim Wallis, who has been suspended for 10 days without pay.

The investigation determined that Wallis made sexist remarks to a female officer, who secretly recorded the conversation, according to a 33-page report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday through an Open Records Act request.

“You walk around here looking like a Hooters girl when the air conditioner’s not working,” the report quotes Chief Wallis saying. “Are you working here or are you working at Hooters? Go get you some orange shorts on.”

The report also cited Wallis for creating a hostile work environment.

The report reveals a culture of sexism that some employees said goes back years and has continued in certain corners of the department. Some female employees told the investigator they felt undervalued, while men who were part of a good old boy network who committed bad behavior were protected.

“While the LPD has made some strides to diversity its workforce and make it more professional, some of the old mentality still seems to still exist,” the report concluded.

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Wallis, who has led the department since 2018, wasn’t the only person disciplined as a result of the investigation. His assistant chief, Maj. Myron Walker, will receive verbal counseling, the city’s press release said. The report does not say Walker sexually harassed anyone.

A former captain, Christopher Ryan Morgan, was found to have violated the city’s harassment policy. Morgan declined to be interviewed by the city’s investigator and retired before the probe was finished, according to the investigative report. Morgan did not return phone calls from the AJC seeking comment.

Morgan, who one female co-worker described as a “bully, instigator, trash talker and lazy,” had been the commander of Lawrenceville’s criminal investigations division before he left the department in late December after 22 years with the agency.

City Manager Chuck Warbington said in a written statement Thursday that he was “disturbed by the findings of the investigation and issued penalties to the appropriate employees, including a requirement for individual training.

“The workplace culture revealed through this investigation did not meet the standards of excellence expected of all departments in the City,” Warbington said. “This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

The investigation started last fall after a female officer, whom the AJC is not naming because she is a victim of sexual harassment, met with assistant city manager Steve North and city manager Warbington. She reported harassment and other problems in the department, the report said. The city hired the law firm Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, which specializes in labor and employment law, to conduct an independent investigation.

The female officer told the firm’s investigator that when women complained of harassment and other problems in the male-dominated department, they were seen as troublemakers. The agency had had difficulty retaining women, the officer told the city’s investigator.

The report concluded Capt. Morgan had violated the city’s sexual harassment policy when he made lewd comments via text to the female officer who filed the complaint. He asked her to send pictures of her breasts via text and told her she would look better naked, the report said.

The AJC broke the story of the investigation on Wednesday night, but the city initially provided few details. Chief Wallis told the AJC he has not harassed anyone within his department.

“I have a spotless 31-year career in law enforcement,” he told the AJC on Wednesday.

“The investigation has a few different factors to it,” Wallis said, “and per an order given to me by my city manager, anything, any correspondence, any media, needs to go through him.”

At one point during a phone conversation between the AJC and the chief late Wednesday, a woman came onto the line and suggested the reporter look into Morgan’s conduct.

“And then look real deep into how he got out of this unscathed,” said the woman, who did not identify herself. “And think about who the sacrificial lamb is.”

A post on the Lawrenceville department’s Facebook page dated Dec. 30 congratulates “Captain Ryan Morgan” on his retirement after his two decades of service, and includes a picture of him holding a framed shadowbox of Lawrenceville police insignia. “We wish him the best in his future endeavors!”

Thursday’s news release said the chief has been out of the office on medical modified work-from-home status since Dec. 13 because of unrelated health issues.

Chief Wallis on Wednesday night told the AJC he and his assistant chief were still running the department. Walker on Thursday said he will be running the department in the chief’s absence. He would not comment on the investigation.

The report does not say that Maj. Walker sexually harassed any employees. It does say that the female officer who brought the complaint had sought help from Walker, and from other top supervisors, in dealing with Morgan’s alleged harassment of her and treatment of her, and that they did little to help her.

It also says that the investigator was told that Walker and the chief did little to look into the allegations brought to them about Morgan and that all three men openly flouted instructions to not discuss the internal investigation and made “negative comments about [the female officer] and her motivations for bringing the complaint.” Walker issued a one-page response to the report that said he did not know about some of the lewd comments.

Mayor David Still and three of the four city council members did not return calls from the AJC on Wednesday. City Councilman Austin Thompson referred questions to the city manager and the communications office.

Wallis has been with Lawrenceville since 1996, holding both the rank of captain and lieutenant, according to state records. He began his career with a five-year stint as a deputy with the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department.

The city announced that it was updating its training and would make clear its communication process for submission of confidential employee complaints. Warbington said the city will be making no further statements about the matter.