Benched as guard, Pa. female officer protests

Only males asked to patrol hallway at Steelers' hotel

By Jonathan D. Silver
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — A female Pittsburgh police officer and her supervisor have filed internal complaints alleging that the officer was passed over for off-duty work guarding the Steelers at a Downtown hotel because of her gender.

The officer who did the recruiting for the assignment said he didn't want female officers assigned to the Steelers' floor in the Hilton Pittsburgh hotel because the players "walk down the hallway with no clothes on."

Officer Cynthia Ferretti and her supervisor at the East Liberty station wrote formal complaints after Officer Kevin Head contacted the station last week seeking officers for a secondary employment assignment at the Hilton, where the Steelers stay before home games.

The only stipulation was that women were not eligible to work the posts on the players' floor, something that angered the female officers, according to people familiar with the situation.

Police brass have launched an internal review. Cmdr. RaShall Brackney of the East Liberty station said the inquiry will focus on whether there was compliance with rules and regulations governing secondary employment. She said any further information would be released by the chief's office.

Officer Ferretti, who has been on the job 17 years, declined comment.

Officer Head yesterday acknowledged that he did exclude women from certain positions for the security detail Friday night, prior to the Steelers' preseason game on Saturday with the Green Bay Packers. He noted that two female officers were originally scheduled to work the lobby and the elevator, but one had to cancel.

"They just couldn't work the floors where the guys were with no clothes on. I don't know why everybody's blowing this out of proportion. Really, I didn't even think they took it like they took it. I had two posts that required the men to be on the floor," said Officer Head, a 16-year veteran.

"This is where they're sleeping. They walk down the hallway with no clothes on," he continued. "I didn't put women up there. That was my choice. The Steelers didn't have anything to do with it. The Hilton didn't have anything to do with it."

The female officers' written complaints were delivered yesterday to police headquarters. Police spokeswoman Diane Richard confirmed Tuesday that Chief Nathan Harper and Assistant Chief Regina McDonald were aware of the gender bias allegation. Neither responded yesterday to repeated interview requests.

Officer Head is a latecomer to running the detail. He works off-duty for Tri-State Valet, which says on its Web site that security is provided by "off-duty city, local and county police."

For the past decade, Officers Terry Downs and Francis "Frank" Rende provided hotel security for the Steelers during home games. But their relationship with the Hilton was abruptly terminated late last week for reasons that are unclear, and the business swung to Tri-State Valet.

It was up to Officer Head to scramble to find officers to fill the detail.

Officer Downs yesterday said that neither the Steelers nor the Hilton ever told him to exclude women from working the detail, and he said he had hired female officers over the years to work the posts on the Steelers' hotel floor.

Bryan Campbell, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, said a secondary employer -- any entity interested in hiring off-duty officers for security -- must apply to the city.

Once certified, the secondary employer submits to the Police Bureau's special events section a list of officers it wants to employ and designates one of them as the scheduler -- in this case, Officer Head.

Once the officers on the list are certified as cleared for secondary employment, the scheduler handles the logistics of the assignment.

Typically, secondary employers have a larger pool of names than they would need on any given day so they're assured of getting enough officers that they've preselected. Mr. Campbell said, however, that if the scheduler cannot secure enough personnel, he or she must alert the special events section, which fills the detail from its database of certified officers.

Mr. Campbell said that it seemed likely Chief Harper would be looking to determine if the secondary employer was certified and then would examine which officers worked the detail who were not on the employer's list and how they came to get on that detail.

Tim Zugger, the Hilton's general manager, yesterday said a decision was made Tuesday that Tri-State Valet would no longer provide security for the Steelers at the hotel. He declined to say why.

"Future arrangements will not involve Tri-State Valet and will be handled by the special events department," Mr. Zugger said. "The hotel will go directly through them for future details, and the city police will assign officers."

Mr. Zugger said he was unaware of any policy that excludes women from working security on the players' floor.

Joseph F. McCarthy III, an attorney representing Tri-State Valet, said, "Tri-State has had females work their details in the past, and they did work this event."

When asked if he had requested that female officers not be assigned to hotel security, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "No, absolutely not."

Copyright 2007 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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