Three veteran King County Sheriff's detectives have filed a lawsuit against the county, alleging years of sexual harassment from two supervisors in the department's Special Assault Unit.
A 42-page legal complaint (see attached PDF) filed last Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court details several incidents of alleged abuse on the part of Sergeants Anthony Provenzo and Paul Mahlum.
The three female detectives, identified in a legal complaint as Belinda Ferguson, Janette Luitgaarden and Marylisa Priebe-Olsen, all worked at some point with Provenzo and Mahlum in the Special Assault Unit, which is tasked with investigating sex crimes against children and adults in King County.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and allege that the county knew about the ongoing harassment but did not act to stop it. Last August, the women filed claims seeking a total of $9 million in damages; when the county declined to settle, the plaintiffs opted to file suit.
Among the allegations, statements from other detectives accuse Provenzo and Mahlum of making repeated comments about the size of female detectives' body parts and that Provenzo "regularly talks about the size of his penis" in front of co-workers: "On more than one occasion, Provenzo took a plastic penis and hung it out of the bottom of his pants."
The complaint also alleges the sergeants made light of sex abuse victims, instructing the female detectives to "say it slower, so I can close my eyes" when they were discussing the facts of a case. Provenzo regularly told one of the plaintiffs not to investigate rapes on the Mukleshoot Indian Reservation because such crimes take place there "all the time."
“It is the height of irony—or better stated, hypocrisy—that the very detective unit charged with rooting out and pursuing sexual offenders would be home to rampant sexual harassment,” the plaintiffs' attorney Julie A. Kays wrote in the legal complaint.
Newly elected Sheriff John Urquhart told The Seattle Times last week that he has transferred one of the sergeants to another department and will expand an earlier investigation into the allegations. "If heads need to roll, then they will roll," he told the newspaper.