Candice Shirley filed the lawsuit against the city of Harlingen in 445th state District Court in December. The lawsuit alleges, “Shirley was sexually harassed, sexually assaulted and retaliated against while an employee of the city.”
Attempts to contact an attorney representing the city in the lawsuit were unsuccessful.
City Attorney Roxann Controneo did not respond Thursday to email and phone calls seeking comment.
The lawsuit states that Shirley was fired in May 2011. Capt. Michael Kester was acting police chief at that time. Chief Tom Whitten was hired in July 2011.
At the time Shirley alleges the incidents began in February 2010, District 1 City Commissioner Danny Castillo was police chief. He resigned in February 2011.
Castillo said in an e-mail that because this is pending litigation it would be inappropriate for him to comment and deferred to the city of Harlingen’s legal department.
Whitten was out of the office Thursday but in an email, Whitten confirmed that two of the officers named in the lawsuit, Officers Herman Sauceda and John Byrum, are currently employed with HPD as patrol officers. The third man named in the lawsuit, Sgt. Gerald Manthey, has since retired, Whitten said via email.
Shirley’s lawsuit alleges that she was completing her police field training in February 2010 when Sauceda, her training officer, accessed the Internet from their patrol car’s computer and displayed videos of a half-naked woman. The videos provided instructions on massage techniques to sexually arouse women, the lawsuit alleges.
Shirley filed a complaint with HPD, but received no response within 15 days of the complaint, the lawsuit states.
“After the Sauceda incident, Officer Shirley was retaliated against by other members of the department in the form of harassment and name calling,” the lawsuit states.
Shirley, according to the lawsuit, filed another complaint with the city and did not receive a response.
The lawsuit alleges that a day after she filed the complaint, in July 2010, Shirley found a message on a board in the police station briefing room at the beginning of her shift that read, “Keep the rat on your shift under control or I will take care of the rat myself. Duty, Honor, Pest Control.”
The lawsuit further alleges that in September 2010 she was at a shooting range with other officers when she was approached by Byrum, who, the lawsuit states, “grabbed Shirley by her duty belt and pulled her toward him, then shook her duty belt in a manner to cause intimate contact between them. Officer Shirley asked Officer Byrum to leave her alone.”
Again, Shirley filed a complaint with the city and did not receive a response, according to the lawsuit.
The city’s human resources department called Shirley for a meeting there in November 2010 and wanted her sign a release of liability, the lawsuit states.
Also in November 2010, Shirley filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the lawsuit says. The EEOC and the Texas Workforce Commission ruled the following month that Shirley had the right to sue, the lawsuit states.
Because she filed complaints, Shirley’s lawsuit states, she received ongoing retaliation from the city.
The lawsuit alleges other incidents of harassment and retaliation that included blog postings on a city website by an unnamed officer that Shirley engaged in promiscuous behavior, and other officers’ failure to respond to her requests for back up while on duty. In one case, Shirley was forced into a physical confrontation with a violent suspect without assistance from other officers, the lawsuit claims.
Shirley’s lawsuit states that she was called to a disciplinary meeting on April 12, 2011. She says “the police chief” refused her request for her police union representative, and the meeting was canceled two days later, according to the lawsuit.
On about April 18, 2011, Shirley was called into the police chief’s office and received disciplinary actions, the lawsuit says. She was told that if she did not sign the document, he would put in her file that she was terminated under mutual agreement and was not eligible for re-hire, the lawsuit states.
May 16, 2011, Shirley was fired, according to the lawsuit, with her termination papers stating that it was an honorable discharge.
Shirley is seeking back pay, compensatory damages, front pay in lieu of reinstatement and loss of future earnings, and attorneys’ fees.