Female cops accuse Seattle Police leadership of 'grooming,' sexual harassment

Four female police officers have filed a tort claim against the Seattle Police Department, alleging sex discrimination, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

Officers Kame Spencer, Judinna Gulpan, Valerie Carson and Lauren Truscott filed a claim of damages against the city on Friday, asking for $5 million in recompense. The tort alleges the perpetrators of the "grooming" and harassment are Police Chief Adrian Diaz, Lt. John O'Neil and SPD's human resource manager, Rebecca McKechnie.

The tort also claims that Seattle Police has a history of sexual discrimination and harassment, which the department even validated with their "30x30" report in Sep. 2023, which identified the many barriers faced by women in SPD — masculine culture, double standards for women, exclusion, discrimination and more.

The complaints

The first complaint is from Ofc. Kame Spencer, who joined SPD in 2017. After being assigned to the South Precinct, she claims then-Sgt. O'Neil made physical advances toward her, touching her inappropriately, forcing a "mentor-mentee" relationship with her, and frequently calling her into his office for uncomfortable one-on-one meetings. Spencer said she felt she could not tell O'Neil "no" as he was her superior and was larger and more physically imposing than her.

During one meeting, O'Neil was trying to get Spencer into the K9 unit, and was asking what her living situation was like, under the guise of placing a dog with her. When Spencer said she didn't think her home was suitable for placing a dog, she said O'Neil suggested she live with him — "You can live with me; my ex-wife is still there but it's no big deal."

Spencer eventually took her complaints to HR, where manager Rebecca McKechnie reportedly shut her out and said "You just got mad because you don't like being told what to do." After filing an Equal Employment Opportunity [EEO] complaint, the claim says O'Neil "weaponized the complaint process" by filing an EEO complaint back at Spencer. She said as late as 2023, she experienced racial slurs and comments from other officers.

The second complaint is from Judinna (Jean) Gulpan, who joined in 2018 and quickly became the face of SPD on its promotional materials.

Gulpan claims O'Neil forced the same "mentor-mentee" relationship with her around 2019, also trying to get her into the K9 unit. She said O'Neil invited her to Las Vegas on an ‘invite-only’ trip with other SPD officers, to watch the first week of the NFL season. He iterated to her that it would be "good for her career" to join him, according to the tort claim. Once there, Gulpan realized most other officers were there with their spouses, leaving her and O'Neil as among the few single people on the trip.

She said O'Neil frequently deceived her into spending time alone with him; he invited her to dinner where he "bragged about his dating history and success with women" and reportedly told her, "I'm really good at sex"; he then said everyone was meeting up to watch a football game at the hotel, but she arrived to find it was just him. Upon returning from the trip, Gulpan said she was subjected to rumors that she slept with O'Neil during the trip. When she confronted him about the rumor, he replied, "that would be a feather in my cap."

Gulpan claims she rebuffed O'Neil's advances, and he retaliated by giving her negative reviews that resulted in her being passed over for promotion to Sergeant, despite completing the exam. She said she went to Diaz for help, but instead, she said he "downplayed her concerns" and characterized it as a "simple miscommunication" between the two of them. Gulpan then went to HR, and McKechnie reportedly suggested she "look at [O'Neil] as a piece of meat, and [that she] needed to be ‘like a puppy’ to him, ready to anticipate his needs so she can get fed by him."

The third complaint is from Ofc. Valerie Carson, who joined in 2018. She claims Diaz "began to pay special attention to [her]" shortly after she joined the Public Affairs Unit, calling her to his office for long, mostly one-sided, conversations with her after hours, which forced Diaz's security detail to have to wait around, as well. Diaz also offered to do handiwork replacing the windows at Carson's new house. During New Year's Eve 2020, she said Diaz requested that she drive him around the city, and she thought the request was odd, so she asked that he bring his security detail with him. She said she was afraid he would try to make an advance at midnight, when people traditionally share a kiss to bring in the new year.

Carson said Diaz frequently made flattering comments about her pants, high heels or boots, but when she refused to ride alone with him on New Year's Eve, she claims Diaz had Sgt. O'Neil reprimand her for her attire.

Some OPA and EEO complaints later, Carson went to HR, where she said McKechnie found her concerns "unfounded." McKechnie reportedly said "Sometimes you feel uncomfortable doing what your boss tells you… but you have to accept it," and suggested that Carson simply disliked her supervisor. "I can tell you have a lot of convictions, but I think you need to let those go and follow orders," she reportedly told Carson.

The last complaint is from Lauren Truscott, who rejoined SPD in 2021 in public relations, part of an initiative to promote female hiring and retention.

Truscott reached the position of Lieutenant by late 2023, and when her superior, Cpt. Deanna Nollette — who had recently been demoted from Assistant Chief — was on vacation, the role of Acting Captain went to a man instead of Truscott. This decision was made by the newly-appointed Assistant Chief, Daniel Nelson, who specifically ordered that Truscott not stand in as Acting Captain, the tort claims. Nollette filed an EEO complaint for Truscott, and the two of them were called into a meeting with McKechnie and Nelson, where the Assistant Chief angrily relented and let Truscott serve as Acting Captain, the tort claims.

Truscott claims that McKechnie asked if she would drop her EEO complaint now that she "got the result she wanted," but Truscott refused. Nollette was shortly after transferred out of the unit to a less-desirable nightshift, the tort says.

During her tenure in the special operations unit, Sgt. O'Neil reportedly took Turscott aside and started spreading rumors about Gulpan, claiming she was a bad worker, called in sick all the time, was having sex with another officer and saying no one likes her. The tort mentions that Chief Diaz previously fired an employee for spreading rumors about him having a sexual affair with one of his new Command Staff hires — yet O'Neil has not been dismissed.

Gulpan eventually met with Truscott and shared her concerns — that she was passed over for Sergeant, that she felt she could not complain to anyone, that O'Neil and Diaz had been friends for decades. Truscott said she urged Gulpan to file an EEO complaint, saying that O'Neil "displayed a pattern of grooming, predatory, abusive and harassing behavior." She then filed her own complaint against O'Neil.

The tort says O'Neil retaliated by filing several complaints against Truscott.

"Sgt. O’Neil engages in a familiar pattern — if he suspects that someone will file a complaint against him, he will preemptively file a complaint against the person. If he has a complaint filed against him, he will turn around file a complaint," reads the tort. "Sgt. O’Neil has weaponized the complaint process, and is assisted by Ms. McKechnie who catches the complaints in HR. She then minimizes Sgt. O’Neil’s behavior and blames the victims of his abuse."

The response

Following the tort claim, Seattle Police issued this statement to FOX 13 Seattle:

"As a general rule, the Seattle Police Department does not litigate tort claims in the media – a practice which is discouraged under case schedules that dictate the flow of discovery in civil litigation, the rules of professional conduct to which all attorneys are bound, and as a matter of professional integrity.  For that reason, the department will not respond to the personal attacks rooted in rough estimations of hearsay reflecting, at their core, individual perceptions of victimhood that are unsupported and – in some instances – belied by the comprehensive investigations that will no doubt ultimately be of record.  While policing, not unlike many professions that require a high level of physicality, has been and remains a male-dominated profession, the Department, and Chief Diaz, are proud of the advancements made by women in the department over the past four years, the commitment of the department to work with its dedicated workforce to address both internal and external challenges that may push, or pull, women out of the workplace, and to create a healthy work environment where all employees can grow and thrive.  While individual grievances may drive headlines, the Department is confident that the record, in its fullness, will prove them unsupported."

Editor's note: Lt. O'Neil runs Seattle Police's Public Affairs department, and when asked the name of the person who wrote the statement, they did not give a name.

An attorney representing Chief Adrian Diaz provided this statement:

These claims against Chief Diaz are both false and contradicted by the claimants’ earlier statements in extensive EEO investigations. As a Hispanic American with decades of experience in law enforcement, Chief Diaz has faced significant discrimination throughout his career. He well understands the negative impact it can have both personally and professionally. Based upon that experience, he has confronted it head on as chief, including specifically through the 30/30 Project to increase female participation in policing and police leadership. Chief Diaz is proud of the department’s record in addressing and overcoming inherent racism and sexism in his time as chief. He is confident the revealing light of the judicial process will set the record straight on these allegations. 

Modern politics has firmly and unfortunately established that salacious allegations and propaganda will routinely beat fact checking. There is little hope that the media will report with equal fervor when these claims against the chief are disproven. The reality is a modern big city chief will always be the target of disgruntled, dissatisfied claimants. Chief Diaz recognizes that and is prepared to allow a fair, thorough review of the evidence to establish the truth about these allegations.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's office issued their own statement:

"While we are unable to comment on active claims, we take allegations of this nature seriously. Mayor Harrell is committed to building a police service that is representative of our community, including ensuring women are empowered and able to succeed. Our office recently transferred an employee to SPD to spearhead efforts to address concerns raised in the 30x30 report and advance our mission to build an inclusive and representative police department."

The tort claims ends with a question: "Do Mayor Harrell, the City Council, [City Attorney] Ms. Davidson stand with female officers who have been repeatedly abused, or do they stand with Chief of Police and his supervisors who are accused of abusing them?"


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