Sexual Harassment Ignored

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Correction Officer Colletté Unique Jacqués-Scott’s ordeal was highlighted in the last report. Since then the telephones at the Black Star News’ Headquarters have been ringing off the hook. As readers recall, when Scott approached Seabrook for help in a bogus case against her by the Correction Department, instead he started commending her looks and proceeded to forcibly plunge his tongue into her mouth while in his office. It was May 15, 1996, the day Officer Scott was due to answer the DOC charges against her.

Part-Two Of Black Star News’ Scandal At Correction Series

Allegations of sexual harassment of fellow employees against Norman Seabrook, President of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA), continue to mount.  As shown in my last column, it is a known documented fact that complaints filed against Seabrook have fallen on deaf ears.  New complaints continue to be brought to the Black Star News.  These stories will appear in further articles.  

Correction Officer Colletté Unique Jacqués-Scott’s ordeal was highlighted in the last report (see below). Since then the telephones at the Black Star News’ Headquarters have been ringing off the hook. As readers recall, when Scott approached Seabrook for help in a bogus case against her by the Correction Department, instead he started commending her looks and proceeded to forcibly plunge his tongue into her mouth while in his office. It was May 15, 1996, the day Officer Scott was due to answer the DOC charges against her.

As with previous reports, Seabrook did not return my call seeking comment. This isn’t the first time Seabrook faced such charges. Previously, my column dealt with the case of a civilian employee at the Correction Department, Sharon Tonge, who worked in the COBA office. She sued Seabrook for sexually harassing her—He visited her home without invitation and requested for sex in the most vulgar manner, court records state. Tonge’s case was settled in Federal Court for an undisclosed amount of COBA’s membership money.  As COBA union members see their contract, benefits and bylaws dwindle – they are becoming more concerned.

I have been unable to reach Correction Officer Theresa Braxton, who was COBA’s third vice-president when she filed a sexual harassment complaint against Seabrook.  However, it is unclear if she remained on COBA’s payroll after being booted out of the COBA office by Seabrook.

The so-called “Love triangle,â€? between Seabrook and Braxton led to the termination of a male correction officer after a DOC trial held at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).  This was a young man who did not have the support of a union and there are serious due process issues, which need to be looked at.  In short – he should not have been terminated. At least note alone.

Seabrook is a correction officer who was elected to COBA’s top position.  He’s supposed to be held to the same standards as any other civil servant.  There’s clearly different treatment when his name is mentioned to some politicians and government offices.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) appeared to have sat on Officer Scott’s sexual assault complaint for seven years.  I spoke with CHR Assistant Commissioner Avery S. Mehlman, who stated “a full and thorough investigation,â€? was being given to Scott’s case.  This was not true.

“The CHR investigator never called me back or told me anything about what was going on with my sexual assault complaint.  When I filed a complaint with the department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEOO) they would not help me, because Seabrook was a union president,â€? stated Scott.

Too many times sexual harassment complaints are pushed under the rug and labeled “Unfoundedâ€? by the DOC’s EEOO, I’m told.  “It’s a good ole boys club type atmosphere in the Department of Correction; it’s no surprise what goes on, it’s sad.  I read the Scott story.  It’s a damn shame it has taken so long; where’s the justice?â€? stated an 18-year veteran female correction officer assigned to Rikers Island who did not want her name to be used.

When the CHR learned Officer Scott received a ‘Right to Sue,’ letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), they quickly stopped their “alleged� investigation and refused to give her their findings.

The same day Mr. Mehlman spoke with me, Officer Scott had received the CHR letter saying they would no longer investigate her complaint because she had now received the right to sue letter from EEOC.

This is a travesty. When complaints are made to agencies, i.e., EEOC and CHR, and probable cause is left out of the equation, which is problematic for the people making the complaint – and time is wasted in a non-productive investigation. What happened to Officer Scott is a crime.  “We don’t investigate crimes and it’s the law that we not further investigate a case where the complainant has received a right to sue,â€? stated Mr. Mehlman.  However, CHR made no attempts to inform Officer Scott of this dilemma, which caused the criminal statute in her case to run out. After seven years of “investigatingâ€? there is nothing to show for it.

“It’s like living in a house with domestic violence.  I have a little sister living in that house; I can’t just walk out and leave her unprotected.  My friends keep telling me to just leave the job and fight from the outside.  They just don’t understand that once you’re retired, legal paperwork begins to somehow get lost,â€? stated Officer Scott.

Officer Scott can retire from the DOC any day now if she wanted. “I can’t leave because there are other women correction officers who are not as strong as myself and can’t deal with the pressure.  I was sexually assaulted and have to live with that until this day,â€? stated Officer Scott.

There have been questionable set of events surrounding the sexual complaints filed against Seabrook.  Many of these victims are saying Seabrook is a known “Sexual predator,â€? who hides behind his powerful political connections.       

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI) stated they were not made aware of Seabrook’s sexual conduct or the sexual harassment complaints filed against him.  Last week I made a visit to OATH and there were some officers waiting for a disciplinary hearing.  The DOC manages to send their members to OATH on their day off.  Why isn’t COBA making any statements about that practice?

These articles have put a fire under COBA’s rear end.  Now, the COBA law firm, Koehler & Isaacs, is trying to represent its members. The heartless DOC fired Probationary Correction Officer Gina Reynolds while she was a victim of domestic violence.  She was reinstated with back pay. However, there are hundreds of COBA members like Officer Reynolds who were victimized by the DOC’s Health Management Division (HMD) draconian policies and never got help—these cases should all be revisited. I will continue to bring stories from the scandalous Department of Correction. 

  
Winkfield’s column appears every week in The Black Star News. Contact him for consideration regarding covering your story. Employees with any City or State agency are encouraged to contact him. Send comments to: Blackstarnews2@aol.com cell – 917-248-1790. Write to: ON THE SPOT, c/o Post Office Box 230149, Queens County, 11423. We can protect whistleblowers by honoring their privacy with confidentiality.

 

 


Article Summary: Officer Scott sought the help of her union, when the unthinkable occurred on May 15, 1996, the day she had to answer the DOC charges at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).  COBA President Seabrook told her to come to his office before she went to OATH, Officer Scott recalls. She said once in his office he closed the door and started complimenting her physical appearance and how much he liked her lips.  “I told him to stay focused, but he kept talking about noticing me in the jail and asking to come to my house for dinner,â€? she said, in the interview. “Here I was a victim of a crime; a supervisor writes me up on bogus charges, and then I’m being sexually assaulted by the union president.â€?

[On The Spot]

City Employee’s Sex Harass Charges Was Buried
The Scandal At Correction Series Continues: Part 1 of 2

By Donald Winkfield

New York’s City council has been rocked by allegations against council members accused by staffers of sexual harassment. Mayor Bloomberg has publicly complained about the slow pace of the Council’s investigation of allegations against one of the council members, Alan Jennings—the probe has lasted several months. (Separately,
council member Vincent Gentile has been accused of sexual harassment by a male staffer).

What about the case of a City employee whose case has been under investigation for eight years? Her case may have been stymied due to the powerful political connections of a union chief.

So far, four African American women have complained about Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA) President Norman Seabrook’s sexual conduct.  There’s no telling how many more complaints have not reached the surface, but I’m told, there are more. Seabrook hasn’t responded to my queries to him about the allegations and cases.

In one case the alleged victim’s complaints filed with watchdog agencies i.e., Commission for Human Rights (CHR), and Department of Investigation (DOI) seem to have been disregarded and tied up for years.  How can someone expect to control corruption or this type of behavior, when complaints are not answered in a timely fashion?

Correction Officer Collette Uniqué Jacqués-Scott is in her 20th year of service with the city’s Department of Correction (DOC).  In 1995, early in the morning outside of her home, she became a victim of a crime when she was preparing to go to work.  She had just placed her two little daughters in the backseat of the car when two gunmen approached to rob her.

 â€œI closed the door and started running away to get them away from my daughters, but one of them just stood there pointing the gun at my daughters,â€? Officer Scott recalled in an interview with The Black Star. “I stopped running and returned to the car.â€?  There were no witnesses out that early and the gunmen took off with her handbag and money.  No one was injured and the two perpetrators were never apprehended.

A few days later, Officer Scott returned to work.  Still worrying about her daughters, she telephoned the babysitter to see how they were doing. A male supervisor at her work also wanted to use the telephone and told her to end her call. “Words were exchanged and I was accused of disrespecting the supervisor,â€? stated Officer Scott – who was later, brought up on DOC departmental charges.

Officer Scott sought the help of her union, when the unthinkable occurred on May 15, 1996, the day she had to answer the DOC charges at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).  COBA President Seabrook told her to come to his office before she went to OATH, Officer Scott recalls. She said once in his office he closed the door and started complimenting her physical appearance and how much he liked her lips.  “I told him to stay focused, but he kept talking about noticing me in the jail and asking to come to my house for dinner,â€? she said, in the interview. “Here I was a victim of a crime; a supervisor writes me up on bogus charges, and then I’m being sexually assaulted by the union president.â€?

Scott quickly got the impression Seabrook lured her to his office under false pretenses.  “He knew I was going through a divorce and tried to capitalize on the situation.  He must have thought I was vulnerable or dumb if he thought I would come to his office and have sex with him in exchange for union help.  He’s nothing but a sexual predator who preys on women,â€? stated Office Scott.

Seabrook told her to change into her uniform in his office before she went to OATH while he watched, she said.  “I got up to put my papers back in the brief case; he grabbed me and shoved his tongue down my throat.  I made enough noise that brought a female executive board member into the office.â€?

Ironically, the day before the alleged incident, former Commissioner Michael P. Jacobson, put out a department wide policy on the “Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Department of Correction.â€?  The very next day, union chief Seabrook trespasses against that policy.

Seabrook got wind of Officer Scott’s intention to file a sexual assault charges against him.  She said he then had the DOC’s charges at OATH against her arising from the confrontation about the telephone remanded to the command level in the DOC; the charges were administratively filed and Officer Scott appeared to have been taken off the hook. This act alone exposes how OATH’s cases can be tampered with or abused.

The DOC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEOO) headed by Louis R. Burgos Jr., Deputy Commissioner, was supposed to “assist in implementing the sexual harassment policy.� His office seemed to have looked the other way finding, “No probable cause� in many sexual harassment cases reported to EEOO.

Officer Scott’s 1996 case apparently was not Seabrook’s first.  Correction Officer Theresa Braxton, then COBA’s third vice president, has complained of being sexually harassed by Seabrook.  Separately, a civilian COBA employee, Sharon Tonge, hired by Seabrook to work in the COBA office, filed a Federal Court sexual harassment lawsuit against Seabrook in 1996 – settling the case for what’s believed to be a million dollars in March 1997. Seabrook has declined to address that case. Court papers show yet
another female civilian COBA employee complaining about being sexually harassed by Seabrook—She could not be reached for comment.

These complaints should have sparked some kind of investigation of COBA’s office.  Clearly if not by the DOC, the District Attorney’s (DA) office should have dealt with Seabrook’s sexual conduct because it’s a crime against women and the law.

Not one or two complaints, four or more complaint have been filed.  Court papers show Seabrook’s sexual acts, did rise to the level of, “Conduct unbecoming of an officer.â€?  However, there were no departmental charges relating to any of the sexual harassment complaints filed against Seabrook.

It makes you ask yourself, how can someone break laws and trespass against peoples’ rights and not be held accountable for his actions? Are our public officials that blind, or do endorsements really get in the way of their office and justice?

“No, I don’t know anything about it,â€? stated DOC spokesman Thomas Antenen when contacted about Scott’s case. He sounded surprised to learn that the CHR could still be investigating Officer Scott’s sexual assault complaint eight years later. “She filed a lawsuit in 1996 and it’s 2004 and there’s been no closure on the matter yet?  That’s a little odd…â€? he added. It was hard to believe the DOC’s spokesperson did not know anything about Seabrook’s sexual conduct after Officer Scott’s complaint and Sharon Tonge’s lawsuit. 

COBA spokesperson Michele Buongiovanni, declined to comment. She did not keep her word to return my call before press time.

CHR Assistant Commissioner Avery S. Mehlman said he could not comment on Scott’s case because it’s still under investigation. CHR is doing “a full and thorough investigation� which may take a little longer. Yet many DOC members involved in the scandal at correction are still walking around free as a bird.

Winkfield’s column appears every week in The Black Star News. Contact him for consideration regarding covering your story. Employees with any City or State agency are encouraged to contact him. Send comments to: Blackstarnews2@aol.com cell – 917-248-1790. Write to: ON THE SPOT, c/o Post Office Box 230149, Queens County, 11423. We can protect whistleblowers by honoring their privacy with confidentiality.


 

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