Philly police head resigns as bias suit roils department
Philadelphia’s police commissioner resigned Tuesday amid allegations that members of his department engaged in sexual harassment and racial and gender discrimination against two women serving in the ranks.
Mayor Jim Kenney said in a news release he was disappointed to lose Commissioner Richard Ross Jr., but in light of the new allegations, he said Ross’ “resignation is in the best interest of the department.”
Kenney spokeswoman Deana Gamble said Ross offered his resignation after Kenney learned details of the allegations by the women, including one who says she once had an affair with Ross.
The corporal and patrol officer made the allegations against several department employees. Gamble said Ross knew about the alleged harassment and failed to respond adequately.
An amended version of the women’s federal lawsuit was filed Monday.
“The mayor wanted to figure out what occurred,” Gamble said. “After he read the complaint, the mayor decided to accept his resignation.”
Ross, who is black, joined the department in 1989 and had served as commissioner since January 2016. He did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The lawsuit alleges discrimination, a hostile work environment, retaliation and other counts. It says the women “have suffered continuous and ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination by both co-workers and supervisors,” including groping, sexual comments and sexual advances, and that they faced retaliation for complaining about it.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they are victims of a sexual assault such as groping.
The lawsuit, in which Ross and the city are among the defendants, was filed by a corporal and an officer, one black, the other black Hispanic. It claimed Ross had had a two-year relationship with one of the women, an affair that ended in 2011.
The women’s civil lawyer, Ian Bryson, said they had not expected Ross to resign.
“If that’s what it takes to shed light on this issue, then we see it as a win for working people,” Bryson said.
The lawsuit said when one of the women told Ross she had been subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, he responded brusquely.
“Commissioner Ross declined to act on her report, and instead suggested, ‘So why don’t you just order his dumb ass to go sit down and get out of your face officer,’” the lawsuit alleged.
Kenney noted a sexual harassment prevention policy and efforts to prevent workplace discrimination and harassment were implemented a year ago.
“While rolling out a new policy understandably takes time, I do not believe the Police Department has taken the necessary actions to address the underlying cultural issues that too often negatively impact women — especially women of color,” Kenney said in a statement.
The mayor said an unspecified independent entity will investigate the recent allegations and recommend how to address discrimination and harassment within the police agency.
Asked if the city has taken any personnel action related to the lawsuit and Ross’ departure, Gamble responded that an internal investigation is currently underway.
The city police have had a checkered relationship with the people they serve, and this summer about 100 people protested outside police headquarters, demanding action in response to reports some officers had made racist and violent social-media posts.
Ross said the day he took the job that it was a “challenging time for law enforcement” and acknowledged the department had “some issues.”
“We have to confront them and we have to be bold about it,” Ross said in 2016.
John McNesby, president of the police union, called Ross “a shining example that hard work and dedication can lead you to the top of your profession” and said he served with honor and respect.
Just last week, Kenney called Ross the best police commissioner in America after a gunman’s long standoff with police.
But during that standoff, hostility between residents and police was evident, as residents harassed officers trying to keep peace at the scene.
Kenney named Deputy Commissioner Christine Coulter to serve as acting commissioner during a search for Ross’ replacement.