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Female police officer wins $1.75 million settlement against CCSU in rape and sexual harassment lawsuit

Aug 26 2020

As it appeared in the Hartford Courant

By MICHAEL HAMAD
HARTFORD COURANT

Lawyers for a female police officer at Central Connecticut State University said she has obtained a settlement of $1.75 million against the University, claiming the university “fostered an environment in its police department where sexual harassment and even sexual assault was the norm, emboldening a fellow officer to rape her on three separate occasions.”

The lawsuit also claimed that members of the police department “sexually harassed female undergraduate students,” and that one officer who was later promoted to sergeant “openly pursued a sexual relationship with an undergraduate student.”

“I do think that the outcome is a satisfying one and that it does provide some measure of accountability for the wrongs that were perpetrated against her, which will impact her for the rest of her life,” said Nina T. Pirrotti, of the law firm Garrison Levin-Epstein Fitzgerald & Pirrotti.

“Unfortunately, there’s no way to take back the alleged crimes, which ran the gamut from sexualized comments to groping to rape. There’s no way that can be undone. The only way that there can be accountability is through a monetary settlement, and I do believe that the magnitude of the settlement reflects a measure of justice being done.”

The female officer has not pursued criminal charges, Pirrotti said.

A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut on May 9, 2019 alleges that the female officer, who is referred to as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, worked alongside her alleged rapist for almost a year after reporting incidents to police leadership before the university launched an investigation.

During that time, the woman’s supervisors and co-workers allegedly retaliated against her, “potentially endangering her life by denying back-up when she called for it.”

“In working with the Attorney General’s Office, CCSU settled the sexual assault case brought by a woman police officer against a male police officer,” CCSU president Zulma R. Toro responded in a statement. “The University terminated the male officer in fall 2018. This case was one of several brought to light when [I] arrived at CCSU, and [I have] worked to transform the campus culture while sending a loud and clear message that sexual misconduct and bullying are not tolerated at CCSU.”

In March 2019, the Courant reported that the 40-page lawsuit named Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Gregory Sneed and three ranking officers in the department: Lt. Edward Dercole, Lt. Christopher Cervoni and Sgt. Ramon Baez.

The officer accused of the sexual assaults, Curtis Lollar, was fired following an independent investigation.

An outside firm hired by university found the police department had hired and retained officers, including the alleged rapist, who had “red flags” and even criminal charges in their backgrounds, resulting in a “hostile culture” and leading to instances of sexual assault against the female police officer.

Investigators also cited the police department’s failure to investigate or take any other measures after the female officer came forward.

The complaint also traces a history of “similar, pervasive institutional failures” at CCSU, including sexual misconduct by unnamed CCSU professors and former Chief Diversity Officer Moises Salinas, who the plaintiff alleges “sexually assaulted one of his students at a meeting he initiated to discuss her graduation plans” in 2010.

“This is not an isolated incident, and this was not a matter of getting rid of one alleged rapist and then all is well on the CCSU campus,” Pirrotti said. “The entire university police department was infected with this systemic, pernicious attitude towards women that manifested itself in ways big and small.”

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