An internal investigation did not find a culture of racism and misogyny on the part of the Woodstock police, as claimed by a police officers’ union attorney, but did find three incidents that needed to be addressed.
The town employee handbook stipulates that the town supervisor appoints someone to investigate complaints. In this case, supervisor Bill McKenna appointed himself, asking questions based on guidance from town labor-relations consultant Michael Richardson.
The August 17, 2022, report was the result of a May 18, 2022 complaint from United Federation of Police Officers attorney Sue Edwards obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
A year later, in May 2023, Edwards, dissatisfied with the town’s handling of the complaints, filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC has declined comment, saying that it is prohibited by federal law from confirming or denying the existence of charges or releasing information unless it files a lawsuit.
In his investigation, McKenna asked each employee of the police department the same four questions and three follow-up questions. Town clerk Jackie Earley or HR officer Pam Boyle was present for each interview, as was United Federation of Police Officers attorney Chris Hoar.
They were asked:
1. Have you ever witnessed or heard inappropriate comments of a racial, sexual or hurtful nature from a colleague directed at you, another officer or a member of the public?
2. Have you ever witnessed a hostile work environment caused by a colleague?
3. Have you experienced discrimination of any nature from a colleague in the workplace?
4. Do you have any concerns working with any colleagues?
5. If any ‘yes’ answers, what actions did you take? Did you speak with a superior? Another colleague? Anyone?
6. If ‘yes,’ do you feel action was taken?
7. Do you feel action was taken to correct the situation? Have things improved?
Yes and no
According to the report, ten officers answered ‘no’ to the first four questions and were not asked the follow-up questions.
One employee answered ‘no’ to the first three questions and ‘yes’ to Question 4, “Do you have any concerns working with any colleagues?” The officer felt someone identified as “Officer A” in the report embarrassed them in front of chief Clayton Keefe for questioning their handling of a call.
McKenna concluded he did not find this created a hostile work environment.
Three employees and one dispatcher answered “yes” to Question 1: “Have you ever witnessed or heard inappropriate comments of a racial, sexual or hurtful nature form a colleague directed at you, another officer or a member of the public?” All four identified statements made by “Officer A” on three different occasions.
According to the report, one employee spoke to their supervisor, identified as “Sergeant D,” who then took the matter to the chief. The dispatcher spoke with their supervisor. One of the employees is another sergeant. The fourth employee did not file a complaint.
McKenna concluded the alleged statements by “Officer A” violated the town rules of conduct prohibiting abusive language in the workplace, including racial slurs and epithets.
“The Town of Woodstock does not accept any inappropriate sexual or racial comments in the workplace. “Officer A” will receive a counseling memorandum for these comments, and informed future comments of a similar nature will lead to a more severe disciplinary action, including termination of employment,” the report stated.
Two officers answered “yes” to the first four questions, but their statements were based on second-hand comments. Their issues reportedly were with “Officer A” and the chief.
In another incident witnessed by a dispatcher, an employee identified as “Officer C” chest-bumped “Officer A” during an argument in the patrol room. The argument apparently had arisen from “Officer A” advising “Officer C” and the dispatcher on the handling of a 911 call.
McKenna found this incident violated town rules of conduct that prohibits disruptive, loud and boisterous behavior or horseplay in the workplace.
“The Town of Woodstock does not accept any inappropriate physical contact in the workplace. “Officer C” will receive a counseling memorandum for this conduct and informed future conduct of a similar nature will lead to a more severe disciplinary action including termination of employment,” McKenna wrote in the report.
In response to a complaint made about the chief’s alleged comments about the breast-feeding or pumping by an employee, Keefe acknowledged there had been discussions about where that activity should take place, but denied they were of a harassing nature.
“The Town of Woodstock fully supports a woman’s right to breastfeed or pump anywhere. We have and will continue to provide a private location should the mother wish one. A statement to this effect should be added to the department’s policy book,” McKenna wrote.
EEOC names names
While McKenna’s investigation did not find a culture of racism and misogyny, it did expose three incidents described as “absolutely unacceptable.”
Eight officers and a dispatcher made statements that they do not want to work with “Officer A,”
“This largely stems from a belief that ‘Officer A’ is investigating them and keeping notes. ‘Officer A’ is perceived to believe he has authority,” the report concluded.
McKenna noted in his report that “Officer A” was assisting in re-writing police policy. There was no indication the behavior was inappropriate or constitutes harassment.
“That said, all employees should be able to perform their jobs without concern of unfair or unreasonable oversight. Employees should feel comfortable working with their colleagues,” McKenna wrote.
The report does not identify any officer or dispatcher by name. The recent EEOC complaint filed by Edwards goes into much greater detail. Edwards represents officers Brian Williams, Tiffany Croizer and Gabrielle Lalima, sergeant Adam McGrath. and former dispatcher Michelle Sullivan.
The EEOC complaint alleges officer Phil Sinagra had commented about his desire to “hate-fuck” and “skull-fuck” officer Lalima, and also expressed his desire to see her naked in the locker room.
Sinagra is currently on administrative leave.
The EEOC complaint also alleges officer Croizer was denied shifts due to insufficient firearms training when male officers with the same training had their certification accepted. She was allegedly subject to comments about pumping breast milk during her shifts and was forced to do so in an unheated storage room.
The EEOC complaint further alleges that sergeant Adam McGrath has faced retaliation for bringing complaints from other officers about Sinagra to the chief, and that Lalima was forced to work more shifts with Sinagra.
Edwards’ EEOC letter criticized the town and McKenna for conducting the probe internally instead of commissioning the services of an independent investigator.
McKenna doesn’t see why it should have been handled any differently. “At that point, we didn’t even know what we were investigating. So, in consulting with the labor-relations advisors, that seemed to be the best approach,” he said. “I think we had a good investigation. We uncovered a few shortcomings, and I made recommendations on how to move past them and correct them.”
McKenna dismissed the idea of anyone being intimidated by the town supervisor asking these questions.
“I don’t know why they would,” he replied. “And again, that’s the process. It’s the way it’s set up. And they’re all adults. So unless they were making a specific claim against me, I don’t know why it would be an issue. I have a good rapport with almost all the officers. And the only reason I say almost all is because there’s some new young ones that I don’t really know yet.”