Former chief denies sex scandal allegations

Former Police Chief Denise Turner (Sellers)

Former Gilroy Police Chief Denise Sellers said allegations of scandalous sex charges against officers in her department are false, the result of “a disgruntled employee making accusations that aren’t true.”
In an interview this week, she said the charges made by fired dispatcher Patricia Harrell were thoroughly investigated by Gilroy Police and an outside investigator and had no validity.
In a 60-page lawsuit filed Aug. 7 (available here: bit.ly/gpdsuit), Harrell alleged that Gilroy officers had inappropriate sexual relations with members of the Police Explorers, a young volunteer group with members aged 14-21, exposed themselves at drunken parties in the presence of minors and hosted sex parties that included wife swapping.
After first discussing Harrell’s lawsuit last week, her attorney, Andrea Josto, of the Costanzo law firm,  Tuesday clarified one of her client’s allegations, that officers were sexually intimate with youth in the Gilroy Explorers Post.
Josta said that in interviewing witnesses, “Our understanding is that there were a couple of minors involved” and that the alleged activity took place several years ago.
More information might be developed as a result of the discovery process, she said, referring to the legal term for both sides in a suit gathering additional information.
According to the lawsuit, one officer left the department as a result and the other was demoted but later reinstated to his previous rank.
Josta also said Harrell is “devastated that this all has to come out, but she has received some words of support, so that is good.”
She added that while the public might get caught up in the sexual allegations, which she said are “very much an important piece” of the case, it is for her office “an employment case.”
The Boy Scouts of America, parent organization of the Explorers, reacted swiftly to the lawsuit’s allegations. On Tuesday BSA headquarters issued a statement related to the officers named in the suit and that reads, in part, as follows:
“The behavior included in these allegations is abhorrent and runs counter to everything for which Exploring and the Boy Scouts of America stand. While these individuals were not registered in our programs, including Exploring, upon learning of these reports we took immediate action to prohibit them from any future participation in Exploring and all Scouting programs.”
The statement continues, “The safety and well-being of our youth members is of paramount importance to the BSA, and integral to everything we do. We seek to prevent child abuse through comprehensive policies and procedures to serve as barriers to abuse. These include a thorough screening process for adult leaders and staff, requiring youth protection training of all adult leaders and volunteers, and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse.”
Harrell alleged she was fired for warning other dispatchers about the behavior. She said she was threatened, investigated, harassed, called names and subjected to unwanted sexual advances as a result of speaking out against the alleged sexually charged work environment and off-duty parties. Hired in 1990, the city took action against her in 2015 and she was fired in March of 2016, three years before she would have received her full pension.
“This person was trying not to accept responsibility and was trying to ruin other people’s lives and careers, which solidified my recommendation to recommend her termination,” said Sellers, who said she looks forward to testifying in the future civil trial.
Sellers, who was chief for nine years, said she had heard Harrell’s complaints and hired an outside investigator found by the city’s Human Relations department and paid for by the city to check them out.
“We investigated every single rabbit trail to see if there was some truth,” said the chief, whose maiden name was Turner. “We were able to close each of those. I investigated, responsibly and exhaustively. We took a long time to investigate those, each and every one of her claims. The whole thing was to tarnish the reputation we have in this community.”
One of the police officers mentioned prominently in the lawsuit is Royce Heath, a former Salinas policeman who rose rapidly in the ranks when he joined the Gilroy department.
In 2016, shortly before her retirement, Sellers promoted Health to provisional captain, the second highest rank in the department.
However, in January, less than a month after he took over for Sellers, Police Chief Scot Smithee suspended Heath and in May brought him back as a police officer, the department’s lowest rank. The city has declined to discuss what prompted the disciplinary action.
Heath and his attorney, Dennis Balsamo of San Luis Obispo, are fighting the proposed demotion and are in negotiations with the city.
Balsamo emphasized Tuesday that his client is not a defendant in the lawsuit. He called Harrell’s allegations “fabrications” that have “nothing to do with” Heath’s reduction in rank and said that “anything associated with his name (in the lawsuit) he disavows as being untrue.”

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