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Complaint: Sergeant alleges 'systemic patterns and practices of discrimination' within Denver PD

Havard told Denver7 the complaint is "blowing the whistle" on DPD's culture
Complaint: Sergeant alleges "systemic patterns and practices of discrimination" within DPD
Posted at 3:22 PM, Sep 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-21 10:03:04-04

DENVER — A Denver police sergeant has filed a Title VII complaint alleging she was punished and retaliated against for raising concerns about gender and race discrimination within the Denver Police Department.

The complaint was filed at the beginning of the month by Denver-based attorney Jenipher Jones with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Sgt. Carla Havard, a 24-year veteran of the department and the president of the Denver Black Police Officer's Organization.

"This is about many more people than me. This is about, legitimately, those people who are suffering in silence," Havard said in an interview with Denver7.

The complaint claims the ranking officer was subject to repeated retaliation after she publicly called for an investigation into her fellow officers.

The complaint states Havard called for an investigation following a memorandum issued for a Women's Collective meeting held on Sept. 27, 2021.

According to Denver police, the Women's Collective is an "internal working group comprised of women leaders, officers, and civilian employees with the goal of collecting feedback about departmental culture and opportunities, discussing needs, and identifying supports."

According to a copy of the memorandum that was obtained by Denver7, officers alleged there was "overt sexual harassment" within the Denver Police Department that were "everyday behaviors" and "significant occurrences."

The memo included statements that officers regularly used derogatory, demeaning and offensive language about people, and included the following statements:

“My Sgt. regularly caresses and plays with my hair and rubs my back. He has also grabbed my leg multiple times when we are sitting next to each other. This often happens in the presence of my Lt. and other Detectives."

“Comments about women's bodies are made daily. The people that make these comments do it openly without any concern that they will be disciplined by superiors."

"What are you doing to protect these women?" Havard told Denver7. "When I started being vocal against their narrative, I started seeing retaliation."

According to DPD's Operations Manual, "It is the policy of the Department of Safety that its employees (both Career Service and sworn), contract employees, temporary workers, and applicants for employment have a right to be free of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based upon actual or perceived race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, age, gender/sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, or caregiver status), marital status, military status, religion, political affiliation, genetic information or any other basis protected by federal, state, or local law or regulation.

The memo also listed a series of recommendations from the Women's Collective to DPD.

At a meeting held on Sept. 27, 2021, Havard "made an exuberant public call for investigation of all the matters detailed in the memorandum and identified the alleged conduct as both policy and law violations – to which she received resounding applause from the attendees." the complaint states.

The complaint alleges that after the meeting, Havard's direct supervisor began shifting her duties as supervisor of the Citywide Impact Team to more patrol-related work with fewer tasks pertaining to community engagement and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

A "non-disciplinary" performance improvement plan (PIP) allegedly culminated on March 17, 2022, in response to "Ms. Havard's persistence in raising opposition to discrimination,".

The complaint states the following regarding the PIP: "Therein without any objective substantiation, Ms. Havard is essentially characterized and cast as the stereotype of an angry black woman; violent in violation of departmental policy and mayoral orders, stating 'Department of Safety personnel have described your behavior as…confrontational, alarming, aggressive, abusive, dismissive, demeaning, and threatening.' The PIP states that personnel were reluctant to come forward regarding their concerns about Ms. Havard’s behavior because of a 'perception of your close connections with the inner administration of the Denver Police Department, and your political connections externally. Personnel have also stated that they are reluctant to speak out or come forward because they fear being accused of harboring a racial or gender-based bias.”

The complaint goes on to state, despite the accusations brought forth against Havard, that the PIP failed to bring forth any additional recommendations, resources, or training for Havard.

The PIP allegedly required Havard to meet two times a week with her supervisor. The complaint accuses the supervisor of implementing the PIP in a "retaliatory, discriminatory, and harassing manner".

"There were no solutions for Ms. Havard," Jones said. "Evidence this PIP was purely retaliatory."

From March 2022 to May 2022, the supervisor is accused of citing Havard for a series of infractions "to which other similarly situated DPD officer employees were not, in practice, subject to. The insubordination infractions cited by [the supervisor] include but are not limited to, punctuality citations for being two minutes late to a meeting, the length and position of her shirt sleeves when moving heavy boxes, and applying her initials rather than her full name to informational documents".

"During a tense March 29, 2022, meeting, upon information and belief, [Havard's supervisor] even shared with Ms. Havard the following: 'nobody likes you,'” the complaint states.

Havard alleges that on April 19, 2022, her supervisor required her to "document and enumerate her every action." The complaint states the directive ultimately led to some of Havard's tasks being reassigned, while components of her identity, including her email address, remained in use for DPD's DEI assignments.

"Because of the nature of Ms. Havard's work, including the fluidity and long term community engagement, an order to document every minute or moment is nearly impossible for Ms. Havard to have successfully completed. Upon information and belief, most of Ms. Havard’s work duties relating to community engagement and diversity, equity, and inclusion were in their substance reassigned to Tyrone Campbell, a lower ranking male employee. Also upon information and belief, electronic correspondence regarding those community engagement and DEI assignments on its face still include Ms. Havard’s DPD email address, yet in their execution and practice, exclude Ms. Havard and evade her authority as the Citywide Impact Team supervisor." the complaint reads.

Additionally, Havard said in April 2022 she expressed discomfort to a fellow officer about participating in a hiring panel, "citing disparate standards as to race and gender." Following that exchange, Havard alleges an Internal Affairs Bureau interview was conducted and concluded with this exchange:

"Pressing Ms. Havard, the interview ended with the final disturbing exchange: 'Carla Havard: Do you feel like this PIP is targeting? Officer: Because you are an angry Black woman with behavioral issues?'"

Following the alleged exchange, the complaint says Havard became concerned for her physical safety. It goes on to say Havard submitted a formal complaint with DPD's Office of the Independent Monitor (OIM).

According to DPD, the OIM is a, "civilian oversight agency for the City and County of Denver Police and Sheriff Departments" tasked, in part with, "receiving and processing community complaints about DPD and DSD sworn personnel".

Additionally, DPD states here, "The OIM monitors the entire Internal Affairs process to ensure that it is handled in a reasonable and appropriate manner."

Havard's complaint alleges that after she filed her complaint with the OIM, she was directed back to Internal Affairs (IA) for another interview.

The complaint claims the IA interview took place despite what Havard and her attorneys claim, was a "conflict of interest" because of who was conducting the interview.

Of the OIM, Havard told Denver7: "In theory, it's a great idea. This was my first time using the Office of the Independent Monitor. I would certainly push it out to the community when they had issues with the police, because I thought it was an independent and separate entity. I found out that although they may have separate subpoena powers, they don't have separate investigation powers. I think that my case will show that employees inherently don't trust these systems in place that we have to make complaints about serious allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination."

The attorney, also claims the PIP led to Havard not being able to study and get a good score for her lieutenant's exam.

"Amidst all of the retaliation and internal investigations, Ms. Havard was attempting to study for the Lieutenant’s Exam, an examination which provides a path to promotion in terms of rank, only offered about once every three years. Effective July 9, 2022, the results were released by the DPD and Ms. Havard’s test yielded a score of approximately 70%, making her promotion unlikely. Upon information and belief, the stringent mandates of the PIP were intended to distract Ms. Havard from studying for the exam, thus mitigating her ascendance in terms of rank within the DPD."

The conclusion of the complaint alleges a series of disproportionate retaliatory behaviors taken by DPD against Havard that have culminated in work-related anxiety and stress disorder which included a series of hospital visits "due to conditions related to her anxiety and stress disorder," as the complaint claims.

"Ms. Havard continues to suffer harm to her physical, psychological, emotional health, and reputational standing and thus respectfully requests that the Commission investigate this matter, issue findings of discrimination, and a right to sue letter," the complaint says. "Finally, Ms. Havard respectfully requests, given the facts as stated herein, that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission fully assess the DPD more broadly for systemic pattern and practice of discrimination."

The Denver Police Department declined to comment on the complaint Tuesday but pointed to training and DEI initiatives the department is working to undertake.

Jones and Havard said they hope the complaint results in a "true acknowledgement" from DPD about the accusations and an investigation by the EEOC into the department.

"I'm going to do this as long as I can because I'm going to save someone in this role, whether they admit it or not," Havard said.

This complaint has also been covered in this report by CPR News.