Government

Anamosa to consider firing police chief after gender bias settlement

Council to discuss and possibly take action Monday on Police Chief Bob Simonson's employment

Amy Ford, police officer at the Lisbon Police Department, is photographed in her police car at Lisbon City Hall in Lisbon on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. Ford received nearly $430,000 as part of a settlement with the City of Anamosa after she sued the city and its police chief for gender discrimination following years of complaints that she was treated unfairly by co-workers and superiors. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Amy Ford, police officer at the Lisbon Police Department, is photographed in her police car at Lisbon City Hall in Lisbon on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. Ford received nearly $430,000 as part of a settlement with the City of Anamosa after she sued the city and its police chief for gender discrimination following years of complaints that she was treated unfairly by co-workers and superiors. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

The Anamosa City Council on Monday will consider firing or suspending its police chief after the city and its insurer paid a $750,000 settlement last month to a former female police officer who alleged gender discrimination.

Amy Ford, who worked for the Anamosa Police Department from 2007 to 2017, claimed in her December 2015 lawsuit Police Chief Bob Simonson sent sexist emails to police department staff, discriminated against her in equipment purchases and retaliated against her when she complained about bias.

“The jokes he sent, the pictures and videos were all women-based and all discriminatory,” Ford told The Gazette earlier this month. “It’s not like he was sending pictures of women finding cures for cancer.”

Now, the city council is planning for “discussion and possible action on discrimination settlement,” according to the online agenda for Monday night’s meeting. This agenda item includes three bullet points: “Summary termination of the chief of police,” “Suspension of the chief of police” and “process for review/evaluation of chief of police’s employment.”

Anamosa resident John Ely has asked to speak at the meeting “regarding Chief Simonson’s employment and possible error made by city attorney,” the agenda states. The council also will consider whether to solicit bids for discrimination sensitivity training for Anamosa city employees.

Simonson did not immediately return a message left on his work voicemail Friday afternoon.

Bill Goodman, of Anamosa, wrote a letter to the editor published in the Journal-Eureka, based in Jones County, earlier this month asking Simonson to step down and criticizing city officials for poor handling of allegations against Simonson.

“How is any female in our community supposed to feel safe and protected if something were to happen to them?” Goodman wrote. “Is this the Police Chief who we expect our youth to look up to?”

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Simonson, hired as chief in May 2010, had a pattern of forwarding bawdy jokes, photos of naked women and other emails with sexist messages, Ford said in her lawsuit. Her attorney, Katie Ervin Carlson with Fiedler & Timmer in Johnston, shared with The Gazette 10 emails they received as part of discovery in the lawsuit.

One email Simonson forwarded June 10, 2015, from his Yahoo account to more than 30 recipients, including Ford and other police officers, had the subject line “Do you remember the Hula-Hoop?”. It showed the back of a naked woman with a Hula-Hoop and the caption “Mezmerizing [sic] isn’t it?”

Another email, which Simonson forwarded on Christmas Day 2016 to Anamosa police officers, excluding Ford, showed a photo of two houses. Christmas lights on one house spelled out a vulgar word for a woman with an arrow pointing to the next house.

Simonson also refused to buy Ford a new ballistics vest, despite hers expiring and not fitting, she said in her lawsuit.

Ford made a written complaint to then-City Administrator Alan Johnson on July 21, 2015, alleging gender discrimination. She got the vest, but the complaint led to retaliation from Simonson that included him giving her the first write-up she’d had in the department and passing her over for a promotion, she said.

Ford’s lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial in December, but the city and its insurer, EMC, settled for $750,000 — with EMC paying $700,000. Ervin Carlson said she thought the #MeToo movement likely pushed the city to settle.

Ford, 38, now is a police officer for Lisbon.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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