Spirit Lake police chief faces harassment charge

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COEUR d'ALENE - A former Spirit Lake Police officer claims she was sexually harassed by the police chief.

Crystal Sudol filed a notice of tort claim against police chief Patrick Lawless and the city of Spirit Lake May 15 that seeks $5 million on grounds that the chief created a "hostile working environment for females in the police department, and did harass, batter and assault (Sudol) while she was employed," according to the claim.

The claim states that Spirit Lake should have known Lawless "had a proclivity to sexually harass female employees with whom he came into contact."

It also states that Spirit Lake Mayor Todd Clary "failed to take swift and appropriate" action against Lawless when it investigated complaints of misconduct in the police department because of a friendship between the two officials.

Clary's disciplinary actions following the investigation "amounted to no more than a slap on the wrist," according to the claim that cites Idaho Human Rights Act and national civil rights violations.

Clary, a former city councilman, was elected mayor in 2009, the same year Lawless was appointed chief of police. Lawless was hired by Spirit Lake in January 2007 and was promoted to patrol sergeant seven months later, according to a Press article after his 2009 promotion. Lawless has performed police work since 1996, previously working in Connecticut.

Lawless told The Press in a phone interview Friday that he had just learned of the tort claim, and that he couldn't comment on pending litigation. Spirit Lake attorney Nancy Stricklin said she couldn't comment on personnel matters, either.

"I can't make any comment. I'd like to, but ... I really can't say too much about it," Lawless said.

He said he hadn't heard if his work schedule would be affected by the pending litigation, but he expected to work on Monday.

The tort claim isn't the only complaint against Lawless.

Post Falls Police Chief Scot Haug said Friday his department is currently investigating a complaint against Lawless on an unrelated matter. Haug said Post Falls police have been investigating it for three weeks, but couldn't elaborate on details other than the investigation should be completed in the next seven days.

"We're investigating a case that he is involved in," Haug said. "I can confirm that it's not related to the tort claim that was just filed."

Sudol graduated in November 2011 from the law enforcement program at North Idaho College, according to graduation records. She attended through the Spirit Lake Police Department at the time. The tort complaint states she was "constructively discharged from her position of employment."

In a complaint rebuttal provided by her attorney, Larry Beck, Sudol claims the alleged discrimination which included inappropriate touching and sexual remarks from the police chief took place beginning March 2011.

"The daily statements made to (Sudol) throughout her employment were sexual, offensive, unwelcome, severe and pervasive. They did alter her conditions of employment, as no employee (let alone a new recruit) should ever have to undergo such discrimination," that report states.

Clary did not return messages Friday.

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