Harassed — then investigated

Her sexual harassment complaint led to a fight for her reputation
Internal emails show a Department of Public Safety staff attorney battling for her professional reputation after complaining of sexual harassment.

Internal emails show a Department of Public Safety staff attorney battling for her professional reputation after complaining of sexual harassment.

She thought the Governor’s Task Force commander had invited her to a Savannah conference for her legal expertise.

Then state patrol Capt. Eddie Williams had drunkenly invited her to his bedroom during a late-night bus ride, the woman alleged in a sexual harassment complaint, and he did nothing as his rowdy subordinates tried to pull her to the back of the bus, chanting her name, with one man saying they wanted to show her a male attendee’s penis.

Former Georgia State Patrol Capt. Eddie Williams took medical disability retirement in 2014 while under investigation for sexual harassment. SPECIAL

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Her accusations ultimately were sustained. Witnesses had backed up her story and an internal investigation revealed the captain had been accused of drunkenly propositioning or insulting three other women he met at government functions.

But for reasons unclear, the Department of Public Safety's investigator had put a microscope on the victim, too, painting her as "flirtatious," state records show. The case is among dozens reviewed by the AJC with a common thread: investigators putting extraordinary stock in the alleged perpetrator's side of the story, letting the male voice drown out the female's.

“I feel as though I am being taught a lesson here,” the victim complained at one point, records show.

Any investigator can fall into that trap of giving men more credibility in their defense, said Patricia Wise, an Ohio employment attorney who has written two books on harassment and retaliation. “I think it is one of the main reasons that victims, who tend to be women, don’t report.”

This case was different, though. The alleged victim was one of Public Safety’s own lawyers and had previously spent years working for the state Attorney General’s Office. She wound up locking horns with her agency’s chief internal investigator, Angie Holt, to debunk assertions that she was somehow partly to blame.

Former Office of Professional Standards Director Angie Holt, who’s now retired, investigated sexual harassment allegations against Capt. Eddie Williams in 2014. The victim, a staff attorney for Public Safety, objected to how Holt portrayed her in the case summary. SPECIAL

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“I feel that the (internal affairs) summary of this event contains an unnecessary review of MY character and actions…,” the attorney wrote in an email obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request. “I now greatly sympathize with women who make the difficult decision to report sexually inappropriate behavior of male co‐workers.”

Her sustained complaint became a fight for her professional reputation. Williams, meanwhile, had put in for medical disability retirement the day after an investigator questioned him, and he was gone a few days before the investigation concluded, avoiding punishment.

Before he retired while under investigation for sexual harassment, Eddie Williams was a captain for the Governor’s Task Force/Drug Suppression unit, which flies helicopters in search of marijuana crops. JOHNNY CRAWFORD / AJC FILE

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Williams, who led an anti-drug helicopter unit, had organized the weeklong conference in May 2014 for training on busting marijuana crops. Officers from at least six states attended. The victim, who declined to be interviewed for this story, taught a Tuesday afternoon class on obtaining warrants. The AJC does not name sexual harassment victims without their consent.

According to her complaint, the bus ride occurred after she and an assistant attorney general, who taught the class with her, accompanied Williams and his group to the Savannah riverfront for dinner and drinks. Williams admitted to Holt that he started the night drinking whisky and Diet Coke, then moved on to Coronas.

On the return ride, the attorney found herself the only woman on a bus with about 35 male cops, many of them intoxicated. The victim said Williams sat down next to her, eyes red, face red.

In a low voice, he said, “When we get back, why don’t you come back to my room and get a beer and we can talk some more?” the woman said in her interview with Holt.

“I’m not drinking any more beer tonight, but you can,” she said she responded.

The men in the back began whooping it up over a picture one of their wives had texted of an officer in his youth with a mullet haircut. They wanted the attorney to join them in the back, one man even coming forward and pulling her by the hand. She declined, and they chanted her name. She asked a National Guard officer sitting behind her what they wanted. “I think they want to show you those pictures,” he said, according to the victim. “Or show you his d***.”

Rather than admonishing his men’s behavior, she said, Williams stepped up pressure on her. “Well, I can come over to your room and bring a beer and we can drink in your room if you’d be more comfortable,” she said he told her.

In his interview with Holt, Williams said he only invited her to have another beer in the dormitory common area. “I never once picked up that I had said something out of the way,” he said.

He denied that his men acted drunk or obnoxious and said he didn’t recall them chanting her name.

Holt then seemed to zero in on Williams’ account of what happened the next day, when the attorney had taken part in a hoist exercise with the group at nearby Fort Pulaski. That involved her dangling from a helicopter by a rope, harnessed to a Department of Natural Resources officer. Williams described the victim as “a little nutty.”

“I mean, she was pumped and hyped and kind of acting like a small child running around,” Williams said. “And she ran over there and jumped on (the officer’s) waist, straddled him and put her arms around his neck.”

Though this had nothing to do with the incident on the bus, and though wrapping legs around her hoist partner was required to prevent spinning, Holt initially wrote in her report that “several interviewed felt (the victim’s) behavior was not fitting” and that her hoist partner “would not have wanted his wife to know.”

The victim protested in emails that Holt’s own case records didn’t back any of that up.

“I am not in the habit or practice of coming on to guys. I am a lesbian,” the victim wrote in an email to Holt, copying Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough and the HR director.

She accused Holt, who was then director of the department’s Office of Professional Standards, of unprofessional behavior, claiming Holt told her in a meeting, “You can dish it, but you cannot take it.”

Holt, now retired, declined an interview request for this story, as did Williams.

Holt’s revised summary report still included a description of the training exercise, but in the context of portraying the attorney as being in good spirits the day after the bus ride.

The report also described allegations that Williams had propositioned a woman at a conference at St. Simons; that he left sexually-suggestive voice mails on another woman’s phone; and that during a conference at Jekyll Island, he asked a woman sitting by a pool if she was the “big-tittied, tattooed woman from class.”

Williams said he didn’t recall the other incidents, explaining that he drinks excessively because of medical issues.

“If I’ve made mistakes, I’ve made mistakes,” Williams said. “I just wanna go home. My career is over.”

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