West Union’s only female police officer says she was forced to resign this week in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the department.
Sierra Fox, who had worked in the West Union Police Department since July 2015, alleges Police Chief Paul Bechtold treated her differently from male officers, denied her a women’s uniform, insulted her and called her vulgar names to other officers.
Two male police officers who used to work with Fox at the northeast Iowa department corroborated her statements, adding that Bechtold made sexual comments about Fox and told them to ignore her calls for emergency help because she probably was being “dramatic.”
“Chief Bechtold told me that if Officer Fox was in a chase and called for help, there was no need to rush to get to the chase to assist her because the suspect ‘would just stop anyway,’” Officer Makenz Kriener, who worked with Fox from December 2017 to June 2018, wrote in an affidavit provided to The Gazette by Fox’s attorney, Katie Ervin Carlson.
“I never would have abided by this command, but it was a dangerous and completely unacceptable order,” he said.
City Administrator Nick McIntyre on Friday confirmed Fox’s resignation, but said she was not required to step down or be fired.
“That’s a misinterpretation,” he said.
A message left for Bechtold by The Gazette had not been returned by Friday evening.
West Union, a city of about 2,300 in Fayette County, has a four-person police department.
Fox complained to McIntyre on Jan. 23 and filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission on Feb. 9, according to paperwork from her attorney.
McIntyre called Fox to a meeting Wednesday and placed her on administrative leave, Fox reported.
In an audio recording of that meeting provided by Ervin Carlson, McIntyre tells Fox she must resign by noon Friday or he would “recommend dismissal to council on Monday.”
Fox submitted her resignation letter Thursday, Ervin Carlson said.
In the recording, McIntyre listed a half-dozen incidents since March 27 in which Fox is alleged to have broken department rules. These include spending unproductive time at the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, failing to respond to medical pages and responding to a K-9 police dog assist in another county without authorization.
“Do I get to say anything?” Fox asks McIntyre, according to the recording.
“You can, yeah. Absolutely,” he replies.
While Fox is looking up some notes, McIntyre continues. “It appears something is going on. You’re not engaged (with work) like you used to be.”
Fox said officers don’t respond to all medical calls because it sometimes isn’t needed, such as when a nursing home has its own medical staff. As the handler of the West Union K-9 officer, Xena, Fox talked about going with the dog to calls at a school and another county. Both calls were requested and provided training for the dog, she said.
“I was given six write-ups for performance issues, every single one of which is alleged to have occurred after I complained about discrimination, harassment, and retaliation,” Fox wrote in her resignation letter.
Fox asked in the letter for West Union to let her keep Xena.
“K9s do not typically change handlers as such a change can cause stress and confusion, causing the dog to shut down and be forced to retire,” Fox wrote. “I worry this will happen if Xena is taken from my care as a result of my forced resignation.”
In an interview, McIntyre said he could not comment on Fox’s assertion she was being retaliated against for her complaints about Bechtold or whether her complaints are being investigated by the city.
As for what will happen to Xena, McIntyre said that will be determined Monday by the West Union City Council.
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