CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - At least three female Cleveland Metropolitan School District police officers resigned from their positions in 2017 after reporting they had been sexually harassed by male co-workers.
Cleveland 19's Investigative Team spent more than a year examining claims of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation within the school district's Division of Safety and Security.
Our investigation found that in the last three years, CMSD has spent hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars investigating, fighting and settling sexual harassment claims. In one case, the school district paid an outside law firm more than $83,000 to investigate a female officer's allegations of harassment and retaliation.
The firm's investigator decided the allegations were unfounded
Throughout our investigation, we interviewed several current and former Division of Safety and Security employees who say bosses in the police department and administration building dragged their feet when it came to investigating the claims, or ignored them altogether.
In 2016, after seven years with CMSD, Police Officer Natasha Rivers says she started getting harassed on the job.
A law firm representing CMSD said the school district "promptly investigated Officer Rivers' complaints and took appropriate actions."
But records show Rivers complained multiple times over four months before CMSD launched a formal investigation into the harassment claims.
Former CMSD police officer Natasha Rivers
"I just wanted it to stop," said Rivers. "And they couldn't even make it stop."
The female officer says she was repeatedly harassed by Cardell Parker, who at the time was the Director of Student Hearings and Appeals. Rivers told us the two had been friends, but says in May 2016, Parker began stalking her on Facebook.
"He would take pictures from my Facebook page and put them on his Facebook page, and would act as if I gave him those pictures," said Rivers.
She told us the Parker would also tag her in sexual posts on Facebook.
"Sometimes it would be just words, sometimes it would be explicit pictures," she said. "I'm not sure who those people were, but they were naked. They were engaged in a sexual act."
After repeatedly asking Parker to stop, without resolve, the officer said she turned to the school district for help.
Records show in October 2016, Rivers notified her immediate supervisors and submitted a formal written complaint to CMSD's law department.
But despite her complaints, she said the harassment didn't stop.
"The situation just continued to escalate," said Rivers. "I told my supervisors about it and I wanted it to be resolved. I went to the legal department October 27, 2016. I guess I just was complaining on deaf ears."
In February 2017, four months after Rivers' initial written complaint, she again notified her bosses, including Chief of Police Lester Fultz, saying Parker was still continuing to harass her. In an e-mail to Fultz she wrote, "I do not feel safe in his presence."
A week later, Ulmer and Berne LLP, an outside law firm CMSD hired to investigate Rivers' claims, began conducting interviews of Rivers, Parker and nine others considered witnesses in the sexual harassment case.
Parker was later placed on paid administrative leave and ordered not to have any contact with Officer Rivers.
Portion of the administrative leave notice CMSD sent to Cardell Parker on April 10, 2017. Parker was also ordered not to have any contact with Officer Natasha Rivers.
Rivers also filed a police report for telecommunications harassment with the Cleveland Division of Police.
On May 5, 2017, Ulmer and Berne investigator Andrea Stone concluded Rivers' sexual harassment allegations were unsubstantiated.
"While there is evidence that Mr. Parker sent text messages, and Facebook posts and messages to or about you that were inappropriate, offensive, and unprofessional and in no way should be condoned, his conduct does not rise or the level of severe or pervasive such that it affected your employment or created an abusive environment," Stone wrote in her decision. "Additionally, the evidence does not show that his behavior was necessarily unwelcomed."
We asked CMSD how much was spent on the Ulmer and Berne investigation, and also requested copies of invoices for legal services related to the investigation.
So far, CMSD has not provided us with a total or the requested public records.
After the Ulmer and Berne investigator closed the case, Parker was allowed to return to his job as the Director of Hearing and Appeals.
"They brought him back, and when they brought him back, he was in the same building that I was in," said Rivers. She told us that when Parker returned from administrative leave, he started sending her intimidating and threatening messages on Facebook.
"He was trying to describe my personal appearance, like I didn't have any clothes on," said Rivers. "He sent a message and said, 'I have over 150 photos of you, and they will be displayed.' He was already blocked. I don't know how he was able to message me."
Rivers says she reported those messages to Fultz.
"I told my chief about it, and he didn't do anything about the situation," said Rivers. "His solution was, 'If you see him, just speak and keep going.'"
CMSD denied our request for an on-camera interview with Fultz.
We also reached out to Fultz by phone.
Our messages we not returned.
Rivers say the next day, she said Parker was waiting for her in her assigned parking area in the underground parking garage at CMSD police headquarters.
"I felt so many emotions at once. My first thing was, 'Oh my God! What is he trying to do? What is he going to do next?'" said Rivers. "He already stalked me and put all these rumors and lies about me out. What was he going to do next? I didn't know what to expect."
Rivers said she feared for her safety.
"I felt even if I have a weapon, that man ... I didn't know what me might do or what he might say or what he might try to do," Rivers said.
CMSD determined Parker had violated the no-contact order.
Records show he was given a choice: be fired or retire.
In January 2018, Parker retired in lieu of termination.
Cardell Parker (Source: WOIO)
Parker declined to talk to us on camera about Rivers, but in a phone conversation he denied harassing the officer. Parker, who is married, claims he was in a relationship with Rivers, but said two did not have an intimated sexual relationship and they did not kiss.
I asked Rivers if she had an intimate personal relationship with Parker. "No, I did not. That was never on the table. That would never happen," she said.
Rivers said the situation with Parker had become so stressful that she went on medical leave immediately following the parking garage incident.
The officer resigned from CMSD in December 2017.
"To this day, how does it affect you?" I asked Rivers. "It's affecting me greatly. I'm more emotional than I have been in my life," she said. "Like, I didn't think something like this would happen to me. I didn't think it would happen to me, and I just can't stand for something like this to happen to someone else."
But as our investigation discovered, it did happen to someone else.
Former CMSD police officer Shalana Satterwhite
Officer Shalana Satterwhite joined the CMSD Police Department in May of 2014. Field Training Officer Tony Jones was assigned to show her the ropes.
As previously reported by Cleveland 19, Jones once worked for the Highland Hills Police Department. In 2006, records show Jones was permitted to resign from Highland Hills, rather than to face departmental charges of sexual battery.
On one of Officer Satterwhite's first days on the job with CMSD, she said Jones asked if she was single, and asked if he could call her "baby."
Satterwhite said Jones also touched her breast in their police cruiser.
The female officer filed a formal complaint and also reported the incidents to her supervisor, former CMSD Sergeant Jacodimus Lee.
"He touched her breast by reaching over her trying to get something from the glove compartment," Lee told us in interview on February 28, 2018. "He could have asked her to get it out."
We recently spoke with Jones, who denies touching Satterwhite.
"If you look at the patrol car, there is no way that I could do that because the glove compartment is down here, you know. It's not up here," Jones said. "So no. Ain't none of that happen."
"Did she think this was just by accident?" I asked Lee. "She didn't think that because of how he approached her and how he was towards her in a sexual way," Lee replied.
"I don't believe in that type of unethical behavior. I just had to do something about it. I had to report it," he said.
If only CMSD had felt the same urgency.
Records show Lee reported the sexual harassment allegations to four CMSD police supervisors on June 26, 2014. However, the school district waited two months to launch an investigation into Officer Satterwhite's claims.
It took another four months to reach a conclusion.
CMSD sustained Satterwhite's allegations that Officer Tony Jones "made inappropriate comments, physical contact, and exhibited inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature toward her that made her uncomfortable and created an offensive or hostile work environment."
The legal department said Jones should be subject to discipline.
"There was never any discipline against Tony Jones for being found guilty of sexually harassing Officer Satterwhite," said Lee.
CMSD told us Jones was "verbally counseled" by Fultz.
Former CMSD police officer Tony Jones (Source: WOIO)
While CMSD's law department made a decision in the sexual harassment case in November 2014, records show the district didn't notify Satterwhite until June 2015.
Officer Satterwhite filed a discrimination complaint against CMSD with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging the school district violated her civil rights. The case was settled in mediation in December 2015, and sources say the officer received a financial settlement from the district.
As part of the agreement between Satterwhite and CMSD, court records show there was to be "no discrimination or retaliation of any kind" against the officer.
But in January 2016, a month after the settlement was reached, Satterwhite reported that she was being retaliated against by some of her fellow officers, and even supervisors.
Lee backs up the claim.
"Nobody wanted to work with her," Lee said. "[They] called her kinda like a rat. They complained about her. She just got treated unfairly. She got treated differently, by not only Tony Jones, but by upper management as well."
Satterwhite claimed her sergeant was encouraged by other supervisors to avoid training the female officer and to "let her fail" for what she believed was punishment for filing the EEOC claim against the district.
Over the next three months, Satterwhite sent e-mails to her supervisors saying she believed officers were harassing her in retaliation. In one e-mail to Chief Lester Fultz in March 2016, she wrote, "I am in fear of my safety" and "I cannot work like this for much longer."
On April 28, 2016, Satterwhite submitted a complaint to CMSD's law department, citing harassment, discrimination, retaliation, hostile work environment, and unfair treatment of women.
The next day, Ulmer and Berne, an outside firm hired by CMSD, launched a fact finding investigation into the claims.
The firm interviewed Satterwhite and thirteen other Division of Safety and Security employees,
Dr. Roseann Canfora, CMSD's Chief Communications Officer, says the school district paid Ulmer and Berne a total of $83,250.41 to conduct the investigation: $69,169.50 plus $14,080.91 in expenses.
In August 2016, Ulmer and Berne investigator Inajo Davis Chappell determined Satterwhite's claims were unsubstantiated, despite testimony from Lee and several others that some of the allegations were true.
Cleveland 19 reviewed transcripts of the interviews conducted by Ulmer and Berne, including the testimony a female police officer and a female dispatcher who both said women who worked for the department were treated unfairly and received more write-ups than the men.
The female police officer agreed with Satterwhite's claim that women were afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation or that they would lose their jobs. Below is a portion of the officer's interview with the investigator:
The female officer also opened up to the investigator about her own personal experiences, including an "inappropriate issue" she had with a a police lieutenant.
She said that she had once called off of work due to menstrual cramping, and when she returned to work the next day, the male lieutenant questioned her and said, "The bad thing about that is I can't check."
"She felt very uncomfortable for him saying that to her and she made a complaint to me," said Lee. "I documented it."
Lee says the female officer also approached him a short time later with another complaint about the same lieutenant. "She said, 'I'm scared to tell you, because I don't want to get retaliated against,'" said Lee.
In her complaint, Lee said the officer told him the lieutenant grabbed and squeezed her thigh while the two were sitting next to each other.
Lee told us that he informed Fultz about the alleged sexual harassment, but said the top brass failed to take action.
In February 2017, on behalf of the female officer and two other women, Lee filed a complaint about the lieutenant and Fultz with CMSD. We were told that the school district hired an outside law firm to investigate the claims, just like it had done with Officer Satterwhite and Rivers.
However, CMSD's Dr. Roseann Canfora says the firm Squire, Patton & Boggs was "engaged to provide legal advice to the District", not investigate the harassment claims, and therefore anything the firm did for CMSD is protected by attorney-client privilege.
On March 3, 2017, the female officer who complained to Lee about the lieutenant resigned from CMSD.
Three days later, Officer Shalana Satterwhite also resigned from school district's police department, citing "ongoing harassment [and] safety issues within my Department."
Satterwhite filed another discrimination complaint against CMSD with the EEOC and received a "Notice of Right to Sue" from the EEOC, which gave her permission to file a lawsuit in federal court. She filed a civil lawsuit against CMSD in June 2017.
According to the lawsuit, Satterwhite sought treatment for emotional distress, which she said was caused by working for CMSD.
The two parties reached a settlement in March 2018 and the federal lawsuit was dismissed. Because of a confidentiality agreement, neither Satterwhite, nor her attorney, Brian Mulhall, would discuss the details of the lawsuit.
A source estimates fighting and settling the case ultimately cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District declined our request for on-camera interviews with Fultz and CEO Eric Gordon to discuss sexual harassment complaints within the Division of Safety and Security, but provided us with the following written statement:
In addition to CMSD's in-house law department that has at least six attorneys on staff, records show CMSD paid more than $8 million to at least ten outside law firms for legal services between 2015 and 2017. Citing attorney-client privilege, the district redacted case-specific information from the legal bills it released to Cleveland 19, so we were unable to determine what the legal services rendered were for.
CMSD won't tell us how much money the district has spent in recent years to fight, investigate and settle sexual harassment claims.
"There's a lot of sexual harassment lawsuits that have been solved and money has been paid out, and there's a lot of current sexual harassment lawsuits going on," a former male CMSD police officer told us in a 2017 interview.
"I think because a lot of stuff gets swept under the rug, a lot of the male officers tend to treat the female officers any way they see fit," he said.
"So that's just the culture there?" I asked.
"Yeah," he replied.
When we made a public records request for Tony Jones' CMSD personnel file, there was no mention of the sexual harassment case involving Officer Shalana Satterwhite inside the file.
We also requested Jones' internal affairs files, which are kept separately at police headquarters.
After combing through more than 250 pages of internal affairs documents in Jones' file, we found 27 pages related to a 2008 sexual harassment case involving the officer and a female dispatcher which was sustained.
The only documentation we found that even mentioned the Satterwhite case was a single piece of paper from 2016 noting that the sexual harassment allegations from 2014 had been sustained.
A single page: This is the only documentation of the Satterwhite sexual harassment allegations in Tony Jones' internal affairs file
After we launched our initial investigation into the CMSD's Division of Safety and Security in January 2017, several employees told us many of the internal affairs files that we requested on Jones, and other officers accused of sexual harassment or improper conduct, soon disappeared.
"I have heard that there are a lot of documents that aren't in people's files anymore," a former CMSD police officer told us in a 2017 interview.
"Just disappeared?" I asked.
"Just disappeared," he replied.
Several other CMSD employees told us some of the internal affairs documents that we requested were destroyed.
"It's alleged that they were shredded and put in a garbage bag and taken out," said Lee.
When a Safety and Security employee tipped us off to the alleged destruction of documents, we made a public records request on Feb. 21, 2017 for surveillance footage from police headquarters.
Surveillance footage recorded on Feb. 1, 2017 shows three large black garbage bags being placed in a hallway at CMSD police headquarters.
Between 10:00:49 a.m. and 10:51:28 a.m., a student and several CMSD employees can be seen putting the bags in the hallway. On at least two occasions, video shows the garbage bags that were placed in the hallway being carried back inside the administrative area.
The bags are later placed back out into the hallway.
There are at least two instances where surveillance footage of the garbage bags appears to be missing.
- At 10:37:27 a.m., a woman enters the hallway with a garbage bag. At 10:37:35 a.m, the woman is still in the hallway, but then the camera footage jumps 23 seconds to 10:37:58 a.m and shows an empty hallway.
- At 10:45:45 a.m, three garbage bags can be seen sitting in an empty hallway. The camera footage then jumps more than two minutes to 10:48:08 a.m., and one of the three bags had gone missing. At 10:51:15 a.m., a student then places a third bag back in the pile and the garbage bags go untouched until 3:47 p.m., when they are hauled away in a large garbage bin.
When we questioned why some of the requested footage was missing, CMSD initially told us the security cameras were motion activated.
The district later clarified that the copying of the video is motion activated, and due to the size of the video files requested by Cleveland 19 News, "the decision was made to download only the footage using the motion event setting."
CMSD also said the original continuous video recording was no longer available due to data storage limitations.
In a phone conversation with Cleveland 19 News in 2017, Fultz denied any police records were destroyed.
Jacodimus Lee told us there had been occasions where CMSD officers were called to respond to a situations but says the officers were preoccupied doing things that were not work-related.
"There have been calls where this officer has been over here in this jurisdiction without permission, or at a haircut place getting a haircut, or at a school having sex," he said.
Several former CMSD employees have told us about a mobile office trailer where officers would allegedly have sex while on duty.
Sources say the trailer was brought onto the grounds of East High School after it closed and was transformed into the East Professional Center, which now houses the Division of Safety and Security.
They say the trailer was used a command post for officers who were scheduled to work overtime shifts to guard the building while it was undergoing renovations.
"They would have sex in that trailer, while on duty," said Lee. "They even had a mattress in there."
"That wasn't to sleep on?" I asked Lee. "It was to have sex on," he replied.
Red circle indicating the location of the trailer at East Professional Center where police officers allegedly had sex while on duty (Image source: Google Maps)
Another former CMSD police officer brought up the trailer during an interview in 2017.
"There was a trailer in the parking lot, that was overtime," the former officer said. "That trailer wasn't always used for overtime."
"So if it wasn't used for overtime, what was it used for?" I asked the officer.
"Probably why there was a blow up mattress in there," he said.
"Are you suggesting that officers were having sex on school property in a school trailer?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied. "Everybody knew about it."
"The complaints came rolling down from honest officers," Lee told us. "They knew, heard, observed certain officers having sex in that trailer. Management never came out to check on them."
Former CMSD Police Sergeant Jacodimus Lee
After more than a decade working in CMSD's Division of Safety and Security, Jacodimus Lee recently resigned from the school district. He asked that we not show his face in our report.
The officer told us he was threatened, harassed and retaliated against after reporting what he believed to be unethical behavior and also for going to bat for the female officers who made sexual harassment complaints.
"People who stand up against them, people who do the right thing. They don't want them around anymore," said Lee. "They want to hurt them. Want them to settle with them. Pay them so this will be on the hush, so this won't be out in court."
Lee says unethical behavior has taken took a toll on the department, and parents should be concerned about the safety of their children.
"Right now the department is not up to its full potential. Kids are not safe," said Lee. "At one point, we had three to four officers in the areas of schools. Drive by right now. You may see none, you may see one, because a lot of officers resigned, quit. Including those officers, those four females officers that we had."
"It takes away from doing our job. It takes away from doing what we swore to do, which is protect the kids," said Lee. "Go in the schools, do what we need to do to make sure those kids have a safe environment. If all this is going on, and not to mention be covered up... They should be furious that this is going on in the school district behind closed doors and they're trying to cover it up."