Public Safety

Former Marion Police Chief Joseph McHale added to sexual harassment lawsuit

Former custodian alleges he took no action to protect her

Former Marion Police Chief Joseph McHale talks to other city department heads before a January 2018 staff meeting at Cit
Former Marion Police Chief Joseph McHale talks to other city department heads before a January 2018 staff meeting at City Hall in Marion. He has been added to a lawsuit by a former custodian in the department who claims a deputy chief sexually harassed her. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MARION — The former Marion police chief has been added to a lawsuit filed by a former custodian, who claims former Deputy Police Chief Douglas Slagle sexually harassed her for months while the former chief and other city officials took no action except to intimidate her.

Valerie Rheeder, in the lawsuit filed last September, said Slagle sexually harassed her on the job from August 2018 to May 2019.

The city, she claims, ignored her complaints, and department administrative manager Shellene Gray and former Chief Joseph McHale threatened and blamed her.

The city, in a statement last year, denied the claims, saying officials “promptly” investigated her allegations and put “remedial measures in place.”

Rheeder began working for the department Aug. 6, 2018. She states Slagle began harassing her a month later, seeking her phone number, asking her to come to his office alone, standing too close and making her feel uncomfortable.

Rheeder said she also complained to an internal affairs investigator. When she met with the investigator and McHale on Jan. 21, McHale told her he preferred to handle the complaint without launching a formal investigation, according to the suit.

The next day, the chief told her Slagle had not sexually harassed her. In making this determination, McHale never asked Rheeder any questions about Slagle’s conduct, the suit stated.

McHale issued a written warning to Rheeder, saying she would be fired if she communicated with Slagle “outside the course of normal duties,” according to the suit.

The suit also alleges Gray threatened Rheeder twice — on Jan. 23 and Jan. 24. The first time, Gray grabbed her by the shoulders and told her, “You will never speak about this again,” the lawsuit stated.

The allegations in the suit could shed light on a city-ordered personnel investigation launched last year of the department and the resignations of Slagle, who retired, and McHale. The city said their departures were not related to a review by an independent lawyer who specializes in harassment and bias cases.

The union representing 29 of the 42 police officers in the department approved a vote of no confidence in McHale, Slagle and Gray in June 2019, leading to a response from McHale about problems he encountered in the department.

McHale is now working in Florida.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com