Panel to look at sexual harassment

By Daniel Silliman


The county chairman plans to look into the handling of a harassment case at the Clayton County Police Department and suggested there would be a survey of female officers.

Eldrin Bell announced the formation of a "special review board" on Tuesday night, at the county commission's regularly scheduled work session. The review board will look at the demotion of Hank Derbyshire, a recruiter and an internal affairs sergeant, who was punished three months ago.

"Action was taken against one of our police officers for sexual harassment and there has been a great deal of disagreement over that action that was taken by the chief of police," the chairman said.

Bell, the former police chief of Atlanta, has questions about why Derbyshire wasn't fired, and why no criminal charges were filed.

Chief Jeff Turner said the county's sexual harassment policy gives each department head a range of possible punishments for sexual harassment violations, from a letter of reprimand to termination.

"I handled the situation, and I did so within the framework of the policy which was established by the board of commissioners," Turner said.

According to the chief, a female recruit complained about Derbyshire on a Friday in September, and by the next Monday, the 28-year veteran of the department had been demoted from sergeant to patrolman, taking a $15,000 cut in salary. He was transferred from internal affairs to fleet maintenance.

The woman, who has not been named, alleged that Derbyshire kissed her, put his hand down her pants, and told her he could quash any complaint she made.

Turner said the woman repeatedly said she didn't want to press charges, didn't want the media to know about the incident and didn't want to sue. She said she just wanted the sergeant fired.

Derbyshire, called into the chief's office, admitted to kissing the recruit, which is against policy, though not illegal.

"According to him, she said some things that he misconstrued. He admitted he did kiss her, but he said that was it ... But even if it was mutual, he shouldn't have been doing that. He shouldn't have been doing that in his office and he shouldn't have been doing that on duty. It was conduct unbecoming an officer," Turner said.

The chief said Derbyshire's record doesn't show any previous complaints of sexual harassment. In his 28 years at the department, no one's ever made those sorts of allegations against him. He's been reprimanded twice, once for a car accident and once for yelling at a fellow officer, but had never had a recruit or a woman lodge a complaint.

"I took all those factors into consideration, along with this lady's unwillingness to testify," Turner said. "The lady still has the right to testify, if she so chooses. If she didn't want to testify, then we didn't have anything to prosecute with. She basically just wanted to see him fired."

Turner said the demotion was punishment suited to the case. Derbyshire now "shuffles cars" as he approaches the end of his time with the department. The two-step drop in pay grade will dramatically cut into his pension. The case was also referred to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, for review.

Three months later, though, the woman alleging harassment approached Bell, during one of his "Evening with the Chairman" events, and she complained about the way the case was handled.

Bell called for a special review board, which is provided for in the civil service rules under "Rule 12." The rule allows a panel of three, a representative for the chairman, the personal director and the department head, to investigate "equal opportunity, sexual harassment and employee relations issues."

According to the rule, "many of these issues are complex and are being exposed more so now than in the past because of the growing numbers of women and minorities in the county's workforce."

The panel reviews the case and then makes a recommendation to the department head -- in this case, Turner -- for "consideration and follow through."

Bell, speaking at the work session, said the panel would broaden the scope a bit. "We will ask them," he said, "to speak to a number of persons in the department, females, to make sure that the reputation of this board is kept thoroughly intact, that no such actions should ever occur."

Turner said there haven't been any other problems or claims he's aware of, but he agreed harassment is a serious concern.

"I take it seriously," he said. "When a woman makes an outcry, I'm going to take it seriously. Anyone who is involved in sexual harassment is going to suffer the consequences."