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Cop suit alleges sex harassment

December 10, 2001

A Queens lieutenant has been charged and transferred for allegedly sexually harassing two female officers while a top commander has been reprimanded for not taking appropriate action in the case.

Assistant Chief Thomas Lawless, who heads Queens Patrol Borough South, received what was described as a "very strong" letter of reprimand for failing to censure Lt. Thomas Gray, who has been charged with conduct unbecoming an officer, officials said.

The two female officers, Sgt. Anita Ryan and Det. Cheryl Schiefer, have filed suit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan seeking $30 million from Lawless, Gray and the Police Department.

Lawless, 58, a 36-year department veteran, and Gray, 50, with 28 years on the job, have ridden the Police Department range like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, moving together from assignment to assignment. The practice of commanders taking favored staffers with them is not uncommon.

Neither returned calls to Newsday.

Internal Affairs investigators looked into the allegations but were only able to corroborate one claim made by Ryan and Schiefer. Whether this means that Ryan and Schiefer made up the rest of the allegations or that witnesses were intimidated from coming forward will be for a jury to decide.

Sexual harassment has become a department embarrassment. One problem is the often he said/she said nature of the allegations. Another is the department's reluctance to discipline high-ranking officers.

Last year, the department settled a sexual harassment case of dubious merit in Staten Island by paying $1 million to Sandra Marsh, its former civilian deputy commissioner of equal employment opportunity. Marsh had refused an order from then-Commissioner Howard Safir to rewrite a report criticizing the Staten Island borough commander's reaction to sexual harassment allegations made in that borough.

And last week, deputy inspector Jose Rosado of the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx was busted to captain after he allegedly arrived drunk at the 23rd Precinct, struck a female officer he had dated, then scuffled with the precinct commander and urinated in the commander's office sink. In demoting Rosado, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik cited Rosado's alleged drinking but made no mention of his allegedly having struck the female officer.

The Queens case begins with the arrival of Lawless and Gray at Queens Patrol borough headquarters in May, 2000. According to the suit Ryan and Schiefer filed on Aug. 15, Gray made several inappropriate sexual remarks to Ryan and pulled down his pants in front of Schiefer.

In one instance, the suit alleges, Gray told Ryan to touch his genitalia rather than shake his hand. Gray also posted signs on Ryan's desk calling her the "Borough ---," the only allegation that police investigators corroborate.

Gray also made remarks "explicitly detailing his private sex life, including the fact that his children watched him and his wife having sex through the window of their beach house," the suit claims.

The suit claims that Gray told the officers that although he knew his children were watching, he refused to stop.

The suit also contends that Gray displayed photos of he and Lawless in their underwear, and that Gray said he enjoys riding the Long Island Rail Road because of "all the young boys on the train."

Gray also made "offensive comments" about Ryan's 11-year-old son, the suit said, and Lawless fed Gray grapes while Gray stroked and massaged Lawless' legs. Gray also called Lawless his "second wife," according to the suit.

The suit also contends that when Schiefer prompted an internal investigation by requesting an EEO complaint form, which is confidential, the EEO officer "immediately made known her request for the form and persuaded her not to formally file a complaint."

Lawless and Gray later "retaliated by discussing the details of her complaint with co-workers," the suit said.

When an EEO officer called Gray about the allegations, he answered the phone by saying, "Which one of my --- is complaining about me now?" the suit alleges.

Ryan, who joined the department in 1982, transferred to Brooklyn South Borough Patrol in May, joining Chief Joseph Fox, her commanding officer in Queens before Lawless arrived. She has filed for retirement. Schiefer, a police officer since 1986, remains in Queens.

Kelly's Corner. Incoming police commissioner Ray Kelly is said to be focusing on WCBS-TV reporter Michael O'Looney as his spokesman.

O'Looney says Kelly contacted him about the job but hasn't made him a formal offer.

O'Looney says he's known Kelly for a decade and that Kelly attended his wedding.

Kelly didn't return a call.

No comment from Team Bloomberg.

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© 2001 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.