Attorney for Sheriff's deputy describes alleged harassment on the job in $50 million suit
A female Sheriff's deputy has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Jefferson County department, over racy photos she says were taken of her as part of an online pedophile investigation. The lawsuit is about to proceed to the next phase, and the deputy and her lawyer are calling for an independent investigation.
Jefferson County Attorney David Paulsen is set to interview the plaintiff, Deputy Krystal Rice, on May 16.
Rice alleges in the lawsuit that Deputy Steven Cote took photos of her in various stages of undress for him to use in his MySpace profile, where he posed as a 15-year-old girl to try to catch pedophiles.
Now the photos are missing and so is the contract that specified how they would be used.
Charu Narang is the attorney representing Rice in the lawsuit. Narang says after taking the photos of Rice, Cote tried to pursue a relationship with her and when she refused, he contacted her boyfriend's mother and defamed her.
"Her superiors did know that he was engaging in conduct that is clearly sexual harassment under any guidelines and to my knowledge, and also to my client's knowledge, Detective Cote has not been disciplined," Narang said.
David Paulsen is the Jefferson County attorney. He is defending the county against Rice's allegations. County administrator Robert Hagemann referred questions about the case to him.
WRVO News asked Paulsen if a request for topless photographs would ever be appropriate behavior within the Sheriff’s Department.
"Well, that goes to the merits of the case, which I really can't speak to at this point. We're still in the stage of investigating," Paulsen said.
Asked again about the appropriateness of topless photographs in the work place, Paulsen responded in a similar fashion.
"Well again, I don't want to jump to conclusions as to how it happened or why, other than to say that is the purpose of my investigation," he said.
In addition to pursuing the lawsuit, Narang and Rice have called for an independent inquiry into the allegations, something Sheriff John Burns told the Watertown Daily Times he would support. But no inquiry has yet begun. Paulsen says it's too early.
"Until I have a chance to evaluate, you know, what the other parties, what other members of the Sheriff's Department involved were, and report that back to the Board of Legislators, it's really premature to discuss, you know, what else might need to be done," Paulsen said.
Narang says two days after she filed the lawsuit she received a threatening phone call from a man who said he was closely connected with the Sheriff's Department.
The man threatened that if Narang didn’t drop the lawsuit she would be pulled over every time she drove her car. The caller also said that it would be very difficult or impossible for her to practice law in New York state.
Narang hasn't been pulled over since receiving the call. She says that she and Rice are serious about their allegations and won't back down.
The suit alleges that Cote showed Rice photos of another female detective in a halter top and short skirt when he asked her to pose, and that higher ups in the department knew of the request. Cote allegedly took Rice to a secluded spot, where he not only took photos of her in a short skirt, but also persuaded her to pose topless and in her underwear.
“Then he told her that all of these photos, prior to having the photo session, would be kept on a disk that would only be viewed by himself or her in connection with using the photos, and if she wanted the disk back she could ask for it at any time and it would be given to her. No questions – she wouldn't be in trouble if she asked for it back,” Narang said.
The photo session allegedly took place in 2006. In early 2009, Narang says, Rice began asking for the disk back.
Cote allegedly told Rice that he had destroyed the disk.
“But there are no witnesses to the destruction. The contract, which was placed in her personnel file, is gone. No one can locate it. So that's where we are,” Narang said.