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Strong words from a judge followed New York City’s decision Thursday to settle a $5 million civil rights case brought by an openly lesbian police officer who claimed that her superiors never investigated abusive conduct by her fellow officers. Calling the New York City Police Department’s behavior “outrageous,” Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the jury following the settlement, which came on the heels of damaging testimony at trial about the refusal of superior officers to investigate the sexual harassment claims of Officer Elizabeth Bryant. Bryant charged that after she and her “life partner” held a “commitment ceremony” in Central Park in 1997, her fellow officers at the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx posted anti-gay literature in the precinct and repeatedly called her a “dyke.” She also charged that one officer told her “the guys are not going to come to your” aid if she issued a call for distress, and that superior officers repeatedly denied her request for a transfer. One police sergeant was asked at trial Thursday about her deposition testimony that showed the sergeant’s superiors were less than enthusiastic about investigating Bryant’s claim — a fact that, if true, runs counter to a 1998 agreement between the city and the federal government in which the police department promised to investigate thoroughly all cases of sexual harassment. In the deposition, Bryant’s attorney, Joseph Tacopina, asked Sergeant Sondra Williams, “Did you ever pursue evidence of these individual allegations or nonoccurrence of these individual allegations?” When Williams answered that she did not, Tacopina asked, “And was that a result of the discussions you describe with your supervisors?” Williams then said, “Yes,” acknowledging that she was told not to pursue the case. Kaplan on Thursday mentioned the sergeant’s testimony as he dismissed the jury. “Nobody, I suspect, is ever going to know for sure exactly what went down here,” Kaplan said in court. “We have all heard evidence, but we haven’t heard all the evidence; the trial never ended.” “But I have a message for the Police Department of the City of New York, and the message is that if in fact the investigation of the allegations brought to the attention of the OEEO (Office of Equal Employment Opportunity) on Dec. 2 of 1998 was no more than what Sergeant Williams today said [it was], it is outrageous. Now, of course, I don’t know what else may have occurred but, I’m telling you from here, it is outrageous.” In 1998, the New York City Police Department settled a lawsuit brought by Southern District U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White in 1996 on behalf of a harassed female officer. The city agreed to improve training on equal employment issues, revise its procedures for investigating harassment complaints, and amend the department’s Patrol Guide to clarify the responsibilities of commanding officers who deal with such complaints. The agreement before U.S. Magistrate Theodore Katz also called for the police department to increase from 20 to 30 the number of employees in its Office of Equal Employment Opportunity. In addition, it stipulated that the Justice Department would continue to monitor compliance with the agreement through Dec. 31, 2001, with White’s office having the option of reactivating the case if progress was not made. And the agreement also required a directive from then-Police Commissioner Howard Safir that he demonstrate the department’s commitment to the new regime by issuing a message to be read aloud at 10 consecutive roll calls. Marvin Smilon, a spokesman for White, has confirmed that the office was “monitoring” Bryant’s trial, which is the first case of its kind filed since the 1998 agreement. Neither side would disclose the terms of the settlement. Assistant Corporation Counsel Patricia Miller was lead counsel for the police department in the case, Bryant v. City of New York, 99 Civ. 10238.

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