Middletown police sergeant demoted for failing to report allegations

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Middletown Division of Police

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A Middletown police sergeant was demoted last month for failing to report sexual harassment claims made against a detective at law enforcement conferences in 2018 and 2019.

Mark Sam Allen, a 20-plus-year veteran of the department, was demoted from sergeant to officer on Feb. 18 by city council at the recommendation of his superiors. Allen, who was hired as a corrections officer in 1998, received the demotion for violating the department’s sexual harassment policy, specifically regarding responsibility of superiors to report claims they observe or that are reported to them, according to documents in his personnel file.

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The demotion came after an investigation into Brandon Highley, who resigned on Nov. 15, about a month after a female Middletown officer filed a complaint accusing him of making inappropriate comments to her that “if true may constitute sexual harassment,” according to investigation documents obtained by the Journal-News.

Highley, a seven-year veteran, was placed on administrative leave during the investigation before resigning.

Middletown Fraternal Order of Police President Jason Wargo said he believed Allen may appeal the demotion. Allen did not respond to a request for comment sent through Wargo.

Highley was accused of calling a female officer a sexually explicit name and insinuating he had photos of her breasts on his cellphone while attending an October 2019 conference for law enforcement officers in Columbus. The investigation led to allegations that Highley touched the female officer’s inner thigh, threw two female officers onto a hotel room bed and followed the second female officer into a restroom and tried to kiss her during the conference in October 2018.

In a notice of demotion dated Dec. 17, Middletown Police Maj. Leanne Hood wrote, “It was alleged that you received written and verbal notice of sexual harassment by the Detective in October 2018. It was further alleged you personally observed verbal sexual harassment by the same Detective in October 2019.”

Allen argued at a pre-disciplinary hearing that the events did not occur while at work and the actions did not constitute “sexual harassment.” He also argued that the female did not make a formal complaint to him in the 2018 incident but instead in informal conversation between them, and that the city’s former law director provided a directive that conflicted with the city’s policy in sexual harassment training in 2017.

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Allen was represented at the pre-disciplinary hearing by attorneys Melynda Cook Howard and Jeremy Evans.

“You explained you understood the directive to be that if you can resolve the harassment without reporting it, then there was not reporting obligation,” Hood wrote.

But Hood said an investigation of the 2018 conference showed that a subordinate employee texted Allen detailed information of inappropriate sexual conduct by Highley directed at two females. That employee later explained the behavior in person.

“You did not report the allegations to the chief of police,” Hood wrote.

Hood said whether Allen was on the clock and in uniform has no bearing on his obligation to report sexual harassment allegations. He and the police department members were attending the conference in an official capacity, she wrote.

City administrators disagreed with Allen’s assertion that he believed the conduct reported to him and that he observed was not sexual harassment.

“It is not the supervisor’s responsibility to determine whether the conduct meets the legal definition of sexual harassment,” Hood wrote.

During sexual harassment training in 2017, the former city law director said some employees who are sexually harassed are able to resolve the harassment by confronting the harasser, but he explained most are unable or unwilling to do this and that is why the city has reporting procedure, Hood wrote in her letter.

“The law director made it very clear that if a supervisor is made aware of harassment, the supervisor is required to report to their department head or the law department,” Hood said.

She added that city records indicate Allen did not attend the 2017 sexual harassment training program.

Allen’s personnel file contains a number of commendations for work as an officer and good to excellent evaluations.

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