Female Chicago officer wins $150K in harassment suit

By Abdon M. Pallasch
Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO — A federal jury has found that Chicago Police officers harassed a female colleague who dared to join an undercover unit that previously had been all men.

Ann McDermott's fellow officers put pornography in her mailbox every day and when she complained about it, they accused her of being a "beefer" an officer who reports fellow officers.

The jury awarded her $150,000 in damages Monday. The city also will be on the hook for around $500,000 in legal fees for her lawyers at Loevy & Loevy.

McDermott went back to work Tuesday night still feeling like a pariah among fellow officers for breaking what she called the officers' "Code of Silence," but she felt a measure of vindication.

"I told the jury exactly what happened and the Chicago Police Department, including one commander, one captain, two lieutenants and seven sergeants all tried to say I wasn't telling the truth and the jury saw through it," she said.

Based on the verdict, the Internal Affairs Department, which had dismissed most of the complaints McDermott brought, will take a second look, said police spokeswoman Monique Bond.

'It's very lonely' as outcast

When McDermott first started making complaints, an old boyfriend on the force told her he took a call from someone who said, "You better get your girlfriend in check before someone gets hurt."
"I was so scared I put my condo on the market to sell," McDermott testified.

A former teacher, McDermott joined the force in 1997, first working just north of downtown in the 18th District, then transferring up to Rogers Park. She asked to join the undercover gang unit, becoming the only woman on an eight-officer team.

Starting the first day of her new assignment and continuing every day for six months, she found porn in her mailbox -- "Females naked posing; much more graphic hard-core pornography, men and women having sex in different positions," and a woman who had soiled herself, among other images McDermott found disturbing, she testified.

She transferred to the 17th District in Albany Park but found her tormentors had called ahead and arranged to have officers there put porn in her mailbox, she said.

The $150,000 does not make up for being an outcast for speaking out, she said.

"Five to six years later, people still don't talk to me, still don't trust me," she said. "People look at you like you have five eyes. Nobody talks to you. It's very lonely."

Copyright 2007 Chicago Sun-Times

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