Published 11:35 AM EDT Aug 21, 2019
Philadelphia’s police commissioner resigned Tuesday amid allegations that members of his department engaged in sexual harassment and racial and gender discrimination against two women serving in the ranks.
Mayor Jim Kenney said in a news release that he was disappointed to lose Commissioner Richard Ross Jr., but in light of the new allegations, he said Ross’ resignation “is in the best interest of the department.”
“I believe new leadership will help us continue to reform the department and show that racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination simply will not be tolerated,” Kenney said.
Kenney spokeswoman Deana Gamble said Ross offered his resignation after Kenney learned details of the allegations by the women.
“The mayor wanted to figure out what occurred,” Gamble said. “After he read the complaint, the mayor decided to accept his resignation.”
Gamble said Ross knew about the alleged harassment and failed to respond adequately.
The lawsuit, in which Ross and the city are among the defendants, was filed by Cpl. Audra McCowan, 36, who is black, and Officer Jennifer Allen, 38, who is black and Hispanic. The suit claimed Ross had had a two-year relationship with McCowan, an affair that ended in 2011.
An amended version of the women’s federal lawsuit was filed Monday.
Ross, who is black, joined the department in 1989 and had served as commissioner since January 2016.
The women’s civil lawyer, Ian Bryson, told the Associated Press that they had not expected Ross to resign.
“If that’s what it takes to shed light on this issue, then we see it as a win for working people,” Bryson said.
The lawsuit alleges discrimination, a hostile work environment, retaliation and other counts. It says the women “have suffered continuous and ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination by both co-workers and supervisors,” including groping, sexual comments and sexual advances, and that they faced retaliation for complaining about it.
When McCowan told Ross that she had been subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, he responded brusquely, according to the suit.
“Commissioner Ross declined to act on her report, and instead suggested, ‘So why don’t you just order his dumb ass to go sit down and get out of your face officer,’” the lawsuit alleged.
The lawsuit further alleged that “Commissioner Ross also stated he was going to ‘school’ Ms. McCowan on sexual harassment and indicated that he continues to be upset with her and was getting in the way of redressing her complaints in retribution for her breaking off their two-year affair.”
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In his press release, Kenney noted that a sexual harassment prevention policy and efforts to prevent workplace discrimination and harassment were implemented a year ago.
“While rolling out a new policy understandably takes time, I do not believe the Police Department has taken the necessary actions to address the underlying cultural issues that too often negatively impact women – especially women of color,” Kenney said in the statement.
The mayor said an unspecified independent entity will investigate the recent allegations and recommend how to address discrimination and harassment within the police agency.
Asked whether the city has taken any personnel action related to the lawsuit and Ross’ departure, Gamble responded that an internal investigation was currently underway.
The city police have had a checkered relationship with the people they serve, and this summer about 100 people protested outside police headquarters, demanding action in response to reports some officers had made racist and violent social-media posts.
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Ross said the day he took the job that it was a “challenging time for law enforcement” and acknowledged the department had “some issues.”
“We have to confront them and we have to be bold about it,” Ross said in 2016.
John McNesby, president of the police union, called Ross “a shining example that hard work and dedication can lead you to the top of your profession” and said he served with honor and respect.
Just last week, Kenney called Ross the best police commissioner in America after a gunman’s long standoff with police. Last month, Ross guided the department through a social media scandal that resulted in the firing of 13 officers for racist Facebook posts.
Kenney named Christine M. Coulter, the current Deputy Commissioner for the Philadelphia Police Department, as Acting-Commissioner.
“Deputy Coulter is an experienced police commander with nearly 30 years of law enforcement service,” Kenney said in the press release.
Contributing: The Associated Press