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Originally published Saturday, October 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Civil-rights lawsuit targets UW police

Six current and former employees at the University of Washington Police Department, including four sworn police officers, have filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the university alleging a hostile work environment rife with racial and sexual discrimination.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Six current and former employees at the University of Washington Police Department, including four sworn police officers, have filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the university alleging a hostile work environment rife with racial and sexual discrimination.

Among other things, the suit alleges a black female employee learned there was a black voodoo doll found in her department, and a Jewish officer was told he couldn't really be Jewish because he had no number tattooed on his arm.

The employees allege that other officers, supervisors and even former Police Chief Vicky Stormo engaged in inappropriate behavior and failed to respond to the complaints.

The lawsuit claims university officials knew, or should have known, of the allegations but did nothing. As a result, some of the employees have left and others have suffered depression, humiliation and emotional problems.

University spokesman Norm Arkans said the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court late Thursday, has not been reviewed by the Attorney General's Office and that the university could not comment on specifics.

"But I can say that we are aware of these issues and complaints, and had been working with these employees' lawyers to try to resolve this," he said. "We do not believe these claims have any merit, and we will defend against them in court."

Attempts to contact Stormo, who left the department in February, were not successful. She announced her plans to leave after 28 years in law enforcement last year after the university announced it planned to reorganize the department.

Arkans said the reorganization did not have anything to do with the allegations that led to the lawsuit.

Among the claims is that the department's records coordinator, Dawn Carroll, a black woman, "became aware of a black voodoo doll found in her department with stickpins and a noose around its neck."

Andrew Cohen, a Jewish police officer, said he was told that it "might be a good idea" if he didn't work a detail involving a Palestinian protest of a Jewish speaker on campus, and he claims he once was told by a fellow officer that he couldn't be Jewish because "you don't have a numbered tattoo on your arm," a reference to the tattooed survivors of Nazi concentration and death camps.

Cohen complained, too, when in March 2007 "there were pictures of superimposed swastikas posted around" the station office.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include April Lesho, a police-officer trainee and lesbian who claims she was forced to leave the department because of sexual-orientation harassment by her supervisor and others. On one occasion, the lawsuit alleges, she went into a meeting with a "female chief" — apparently Stormo — and radioed dispatch to say they would be unavailable.

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"The chief then commented in a sexual tone ... 'You're going to start rumors about us.' "

"This comment was inappropriate and unprofessional, and made Lesho uncomfortable and feeling sexually harassed," the lawsuit claims.

Officer Doug Parish, a black man, claims he was repeatedly investigated for allegations of wrongdoing, including neglect of duty stemming from the June 2000 campus shooting of UW pathologist Dr. Roger Haggit by one of his students. Parish claims that a white officer who made mistakes in the stalking investigation that led to the shooting death of UW architecture program director Rebecca Griego by her ex-boyfriend in 2007 was treated differently and never investigated.

Other plaintiffs include Officer Robyn Riley, a black woman who claims she was subject to pervasive discrimination and racial harassment, and Eddie West, a 28-year veteran dispatcher who claims he was passed over for promotion because of his age. The department instead hired as his supervisor a woman with six months experience on the job, the lawsuit alleges.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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