A Philadelphia commander was recently tasked with oversight over the police department’s Special Victims Unit, despite a history of sexual harassment allegations against him. Five people have accused Inspector Anthony Washington of sexually harassing them, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which investigated Washington’s record.
The long history of complaints, and Washington’s flourishing career at the department, is not an outlier. Over the years, there have been countless cases of officers across the country who have repeatedly harassed women and committed sexual violence with little to no accountability. As ThinkProgress previously reported, on average, an officer is caught in an act of sexual misconduct every five days.
Allegations against Washington have come from at least four female police officers and one former Temple University student. One female officer, Tonya Milligan, said Washington asked her a series of personal questions and whether she knew how to be submissive. In a Daily News interview in 2012, a woman who was a Temple University student at the time of meeting Washington, Wendy Ducksworth, said she interviewed Washington for a class assignment in 2006, during which time he commented on her body and asked her if it was okay for a man to cheat on this wife.
Sergeant John Massi, who worked with Washington in South Philadelphia’s 17th District, told the Inquirer that he faced retaliation for complaining about Washington’s behavior. Massi said he saw Washington touching himself while watching two female officers. In 2012, he filed a lawsuit against Washington, which the city settled for $8,000 in 2014. As a result of speaking out, Massi received a 15-day suspension and an overnight shift assignment.
Over the course of three years, the city spent nearly $200,000 to settle five lawsuits filed against Washington, including Massi’s. Lawsuits alleged workplace harassment, civil rights violations, and physical abuse. The police department’s Internal Affairs Division did not sustain these complaints against Washington. It also did not sustain complaints from 13 other civilians who filed complaints against him.
As other cases have shown, allegations of inappropriate behavior have not stood in the way of police officers receiving promotions. In 2017, Javier Ortiz, the head of Miami’s police union, was promoted from lieutenant to captain not long after he was assigned desk duty and stripped of his gun for harassing and doxxing a woman after she reported a speeding police officer.
Ortiz displayed similar behavior later that year when he arrested a man who claimed Ortiz photographed his girlfriend’s work identification card. Ortiz ordered the man’s girlfriend to step out of the vehicle and she recorded him taking a photo of her University of Miami work ID, according to the Miami New Times. She said he told her later, “You better be careful, because I do police work over there.” Miami New Times reported that Internal Affairs did not thoroughly investigate the complaint. Only six of 38 citizen complaints against Ortiz have been sustained by Internal Affairs. In March, an Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge said Ortiz used excessive force at a traffic stop in 2015.
Women working in police departments have also reported environments rife with sexual harassment. A Los Angeles Police captain, Lillian Carranza, filed a lawsuit against the department in January alleging that she was the victim of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. She said officers passed around a photo of a nude woman that some officers said was her, as well as another photo of a detective, Ysabel Villegas. In her lawsuit, Carranza said that LAPD Deputy Chief Debra McCarthy, who is in charge of internal LAPD investigations, did not take action to rebuke the circulation of the image or make it clear to officers that the woman in the photograph wasn’t her.
The other woman involved in those incidents, Villegas, said she was the victim of revenge porn. According to Villegas, the man with whom she had an extramarital relationship, LAPD Senior Lead Officer Danny Reedy, sexually assaulted her and threatened to send the sexually explicit photos to officers and her family. Reedy is working on home duty with pay as the department investigates.
In another case, after a federal judge increased scrutiny of the Oakland Police Department following an officer’s suicide in 2015, details of a sexual abuse scandal, as reported by the East Bay Express, began coming to light. The abuse involved 28 officers across several police departments who sexually abused a teenage girl. The behavior occurred over three years and most of the officers worked at the Oakland Police Department. The victim of sexual abuse eventually settled with the department for nearly $1 million in 2017.
In 2017, an 18 year-old woman said two officers raped her after arresting her in Brooklyn. She said the alleged repeated assaults happened while she was handcuffed and inside a police van after being arrested for marijuana possession. Officers claimed they had consensual sex with the woman they arrested. In March, prosecutors dropped charges of rape, sexual assault, and kidnapping against the two men, who have since quit the department, instead charging them with official misconduct and bribery. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office released a statement that there were “unforeseen and serious credibility issues” and said some evidence contradicted the alleged victim’s testimony. New York City Council Member Mark Treyger told The Intercept he planned to speak with members of the New York legislature and city council leadership about next steps to take after what he said was a “sickening decision” by prosecutors.
These cases all point to a disturbing pattern among law enforcement. Research from Bowling Green State University shows that between 2005 and 2013, police officers were charged with forcible rape 405 times and there were 636 instances of forcible fondling. A 2012 study found that 41 percent of police sexual violence cases were committed by repeat-offending officers, which raises serious questions about police accountability for sexual misconduct. Research has also shown that police departments across the country can vary widely on policies dealing with sexual misconduct by officers.