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Gresham police defend hidden camera

Incidents of harassment sparked investigation
by: File photo, Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso

Gresham police Sgt. Teddi Anderson isn't a complainer.

During her law enforcement career she's shrugged off everything from a slashed tire to sexual harassment. After all, when Anderson, 35, was promoted to sergeant in September 2005, she knew she was no longer one of the guys. She was management.

But on Jan. 24, she'd had enough.

Her complaint about workplace harassment led higher ups to place a surveillance camera in the office she shares with five other sergeants.

Police Chief Carla Piluso said it was the only way to identify the harasser, whose identity was needed to launch a potential internal affairs investigation essential to preserving a harassment-free workplace for all employees.

The police officer's union sees it differently.

Attorney Mark Makler, who represents the Gresham Police Officers Association, has filed a grievance with Piluso alleging that the city violated its union contract, as well as employee's civil rights, plus state and federal privacy laws.

'It's a very bizarre set of circumstances in this particular instance,' Makler said, adding that the city's actions embarrassed all employees who were subject to the illegal surveillance.

Enough

On Jan. 24, Anderson found a half-torn piece of paper with an obscenity on it in her top desk drawer. She sat there for 20 minutes debating how to handle it.

It wasn't the first time she received such sentiments. During her first year as sergeant, she got occasional anonymous text messages calling her an arrogant, well, let's just say witch. And three months after her promotion, shortly after she'd raised some performance issues with a fellow officer, a tire on her pickup truck, which was parked in the department's secured parking area, was slashed.

'I didn't think much of it and changed my tire,' she later wrote in a statement obtained by The Outlook through a public-records request. Although she suspected it was in retaliation for giving a poor review, she never filed a police report or reported it to superiors.

'I thought it was part of the job, to a degree,' she said in an exclusive interview with The Outlook.

But the note was different.

It was brazenly placed in her workspace with lots of people around.

Suddenly the force that drives her police work - holding people accountable - kicked in.

'Because we are held to a higher standard, the public expects us to hold our own accountable,' she said.

Why should her harasser be treated any differently?

She brought the note to Lt. Richard Troudt, who briefed Lt. Dale Cummins. When given a choice of reporting the incidents to human resources or having the police department handle it, Anderson said she'd rather Cummins look into it.

About an hour after finding the note, another incident occurred.

Anderson was in the middle of writing a press release when she left her office for about 20 minutes to talk to a lieutenant. She returned to her desk, looked at the computer screen and saw that someone had typed an expletive - the same one that was on the note - at the end of her incomplete sentence.

A police criminalist processed the note, keyboard and desk. Computer experts examined computers and electronic files in search of evidence.

Due to the seriousness of the escalating incidents, Cummins decided to hide a camera focused on Anderson's desk in the office she shares with other sergeants

That night a detective and the criminalist placed the pinhole camera in a ceiling tile with Anderson's knowledge. The 24-hour surveillance was taped on a recorder in Cummins' office, however, audio was not.

Each day, he'd ask Anderson if anything happened. Cummins figured he'd only watch the tapes if the answer was yes. It was no for four days until Jan. 29. That's when someone wrote the expletive on the side mirror of her car, which was parked in the non-secured city hall parking lot.

That's when the detective and criminalist also started filming her vehicle to try to find the culprit.

When there were no more incidents of harassment, they stopped surveillance on Feb. 8. Although it was no longer recording, Cummins left the camera in the ceiling tile in case anything else happened and they needed to use it again.

'Unfortunately, it stayed up there longer than I intended,' Cummins later wrote in a letter to sergeants after one of them found the camera.

Found

On Feb. 26, Patrol Sergeant Terry O'Keeffe was in the office when he noticed a thumb-sized lens in a ceiling tile, climbed up and found the hidden camera.

Makler, the union attorney, said the discovery has had a major affect on the department. Given the nature of the investigation, some employees no longer feel trusted or respected.

'They have no suspects, no probable cause,' Makler said. 'But they decided that the way they wanted to deal with the issue was to secretly videotape the office … and record people where there was an expectation of privacy.'

Targeting employees who use the locked office also leads Makler to believe that police officials suspected a member of his union, which represents the department's sworn officers.

In addition, because the locker room was undergoing repairs, women and men were changing their clothes in that office. These people included employees, their spouses and people changing into bulletproof vests for ride alongs with officers.

Detective Jim Paddock, who serves as union president, said some sergeants are very upset.

'These individuals feel they have really high integrity, and they wouldn't do anything to another sergeant that would be harassing,' Paddock said. In fact, had they known about the situation, they probably would have stood up for the victim and assisted in the investigation. '…We're like a family… There's a lot that could have been done. We don't need to spy on our people.'

No fishing expedition

Piluso contends that her department's actions, right down to placing the hidden camera, were approved by the city's legal staff.

'We weren't spying,' she said. 'We were trying to get a handle on workplace harassment with aspects in the criminal realm.'

Once it was determined who was behind the behavior, the department could decide whether a full-fledged internal affairs investigation was needed. And then the union representing the culprit would be notified.

As for union concerns about no warrant being issued for the camera, Piluso said one wasn't needed because the area is a shared workspace in a public building that's already littered with surveillance cameras.

Piluso understands the initial alarm upon finding the camera.

'And when an explanation is provided, you would think they would be concerned about the welfare of their coworker,' Piluso said.

But Piluso denied targeting individual employees or members of a specific union.

'We singled out the crime scene, that's all we did,' she said.

When asked if she'd do anything differently, Piluso said no.

'This was the right thing to do. This was the best option,' she said.

O'Keeffe said he and most of the sergeants he's talked to agree that 'management has an obligation to protect one of our own,' even if they aren't thrilled with how the protection was provided.

'I was cranky when I initially saw it because I didn't understand why it was placed there,' he said of finding the camera. 'But once it was made known that one of our own was being harassed, then I totally understood. Granted, my office isn't the office where the camera was placed, but I still use that office. … Again management has an obligation. And I look at it like if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide.'

Either way, the union would have been unhappy, O'Keeffe said. 'You're kind of damned if you do and damned if you don't - if management had blown it off then the union would have filed a grievance that they didn't protect one of our own.'

Anderson, meanwhile, is convinced the harassment was retaliation. 'It's about me holding people accountable and people not liking that,' she said.

Some peers tell her that the incidents also are rooted in gender bias - a man giving the same feedback is called a leader, but coming from a woman, she's a … not so nice name.

'I hate that,' Anderson said. 'I don't even like to acknowledge the fact that it could be a gender issue.'

Logically, she knows it's true, but it's easier to blame her managerial duties.

There also are rumblings of preferential treatment. If Anderson was a man, would the department have responded the same way?

O'Keeffe thinks so.

'I don't think management would have done anything differently no matter who it would have been,' O'Keeffe said. 'There's no special treatment.'

Not for the harasser. And not for the victim.