Police Union Takes Action After Sexual Harassment Claims Go Unheard

The police union representing the Connecticut State Police rank and file has called out a member of the brass with ties to Eastern Connecticut for “disrespecting, intimidating, targeting, and threatening” lower ranking troopers.

“As Troopers, we must recognize and obey rank — but we do not have to respect the individual holding the rank,” Sgt. Andrew Matthews, president of the Connecticut State Police Union, wrote in a newsletter sent Monday to the union’s 1,060 troopers, sergeants and master sergeants. “One ranking officer who does not seem to understand this concept — and is not deserving of our respect — is Michael Thomas, acting President for the Captains and Lieutenants Union.”

Capt. Michael Thomas was appointed president of the Captains and Lieutenants Union after Lt. William Baldwin gave up the position, according to state police.

Thomas was promoted to captain when he was assigned to the Bureau of Criminal Investigations. He had been commanding officer of the Eastern District Major Crime Squad and, before that, was in charge of Troop E in Montville. He has been a trooper for almost 24 years, state police said.

Matthews’ letter alleges some managers, including Thomas, were promoted “well beyond their level of competence” and that they are shielded from internal affairs investigations when complaints are made against them.

Matthews cited a 2014 sexual harassment complaint against Thomas that was investigated through the Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Office of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection but not through the state police internal affairs process.

“Not surprisingly, when Thomas was accused of sexually harassing a female employee under his command, the agency failed to conduct an Internal Affairs investigation, and in fact, promoted him to Captain. However, we have had members investigated and demoted for less,” Matthews said.

Matthews said “some members” of the agency believe the internal affairs process exists only to investigate lower ranking members of the Connecticut State Police.

But state police spokeswoman Trooper Kelly Grant said an internal affairs investigation would occur after evidence of sexual harassment is found by either the Equal Employment Opportunity officer or, in limited cases, an investigating supervisor.

“It’s a personal attack to smear me as a commander of the state police and an attempt to intimidate me,” Thomas said.

2014 complaint

The investigation report and supporting documents for the 2014 complaint against Thomas were obtained by The Bulletin after the Freedom of Information Commission ordered disclosure in a February decision. The information was provided more than 13 months after the original request.

Documents from October 2014 show a civilian clerk at the Montville barracks accused Thomas, then a lieutenant and troop commander, of creating a hostile work environment by making comments of a sexual nature and encroaching on her personal space. The clerk said he retaliated against her after she filed a complaint by taking away overtime opportunities and questioning her work habits and attitude in a way he had not done previously.

Investigator Daphne Lewis of the Equal Employment Opportunities office concluded the claims of a hostile work environment did not “rise to the level of sexual harassment.”

Lewis also said there was no evidence showing the reduction in overtime was connected to the clerk’s complaint, according to the report. Several documents were included as proof that an agency-wide effort to cut down on overtime started in May of that year.

Lewis did, however, recommend all command staff in the Eastern District attend diversity and sexual harassment prevention training.

“Over the past six years, Thomas’s name was raised numerous times as someone who ignores Union members’ rights, does not support Troopers in the field, and has the leadership philosophy of ‘Do as I say … Not as I do,’” Matthews wrote.

Other claims

Documents pertaining to earlier claims of sexual harassment were also obtained by The Bulletin. In 2007, when Thomas was working with the Statewide Narcotics Task Force at Troop I in Cheshire, he was accused of making comments and gestures of a sexual nature to a clerk.

Unlike the 2014 Equal Employment Opportunities investigation, the 2007 investigation — which occurred when Thomas was a sergeant — was conducted by the Internal Affairs Unit.

Lt. Marcia J. Youngquist found there was not sufficient evidence to prove or disprove the clerk’s allegations of improper demeanor and sexual harassment.

However, in the course of the police union investigation, an office assistant in the building told Youngquist that Thomas had made a sexual comment to her while they were discussing what she was planning to buy her boyfriend for Christmas. According to the report, the office assistant said Thomas told her she should get naked, wrap herself up and give herself to her boyfriend as a gift.

The Internal Affairs Unit found there was enough evidence to show the incident happened and Thomas’ actions constituted misconduct, the report said. Thomas received a letter in his file and was counseled not to make such comments again and “to have appropriate businesslike conversations when dealing with subordinates.”

The decision to publicly address the police union’s concerns about Thomas was made by its board of directors, according to the letter. Connecticut State Police Union legal counsel Mark Dumas said there are 29 members on the board.

Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora B. Schriro could not be reached by phone or email for comment on the union allegations that the Internal Affairs process is not applied fairly throughout the ranks. The request was instead forwarded to Grant, the state police spokeswoman.

“The Connecticut State Police strives to treat all ranks and members of the division with dignity and respect. Our policies set the bar high and our practices are designed to meet the standards we have set for ourselves. We make every effort to honor our commitment to be even-handed and fair-minded. Unfortunately, striving to be fair doesn’t mean everyone will be pleased with the outcome,” Grant said in an email.

According to Matthews’ message in the Police Union Ammo newsletter, there won’t be a “meaningful working relationship” with the Captains and Lieutenants Union as long as Thomas is acting president.

“Michael Thomas and those who ‘lead’ similarly, should consider this a warning: If you disrespect, intimidate, mistreat, target, or threaten our members, for self-enjoyment or otherwise, we will respond,” he wrote.

From Lawyers.com