NORTH CAROLINA—I read and write for Highlands’ Newspaper, a weekly paper with a modest circulation. The publisher/editor, also my editor, is Kim Lewicki. She ran an article in last week’s issue that was excellently written and edited, and worthy of sharing with my national audience.
The week before, Erika Olvera, a former police officer in this town, filed an EEOC Complaint against the Town of Highlands. My family’s experience with Officer Olvera was limited, but we found her to be diligent and capable. She worked for the town for three-and-a-half years. She is a naturalized American from Mexico, who has lived in this area for about 20 years.
About six months after she was employed by the Highlands Police Department, a nasty rumor circulated that she had had an affair with Police Chief Bill Harrell. (In a small town, everyone hears everything.)
At the time I said the rumor may have nothing to do with her, but may be an effort by one of the other officers to undermine the chief. Suffice to say, Chief Bill Harrell is married.
The rumor got worse. By November 2009, it claimed that she had gotten pregnant and had an abortion, paid for by Harrell. In January 2010, she was called into Highlands Town Manager Jim Fatland and Town Attorney Bill Coward. She was questioned about the rumor, and denied all matters. Eleven days later and at the request of the Town Manager, she took and passed a polygraph exam on the same questions.
Talk on the street is that Chief Harrell was also subjected to and passed a polgygraph, but this isn’t his story and that issue has not been verified.
There is more to the article and the complaint, but stop there and ask yourself a few questions. Why was Officer Olvera the only person called in for questioning? Why were she (and possibly the Chief) the only ones asked (demanded, really, when keeping your job is on the line) to take a polygraph exam?
I was in a lunch shop several months ago. One of the other officers was there and we started a conversation. Out of the blue he told me the nasty rumor. (I know of some of his prior conduct, and think he should be fired like a shot for an entirely different situation he was involved in.) My point is, if I knew he was one of the rumor mongers, the Town Manager and Town Attorney should have known, and acted on that knowledge.
The last item was that Officer Olvera drove one of the other officers home during a rain storm at the end of their shifts. Five inches of rain or a foot of snow in one day is not unusual here. And, as she said, “I have a four-wheel drive vehicle. He did not.” The Town Manager then decided that she should “never ride in a patrol car with any male officer.” Since all of the other officers are male, that made her effectively unable to respond to serious situations in which two officers are required.
The thinking behind that prohibition is, of course, right out of the pages of fundamentalist Islam. It is, all men are dogs, and the mere presence of a woman in close proximity will drive them to think wild thoughts and do nasty things. He might as well have required her to wear a burqa on duty. “Oh, the woman in the bag is our new policewoman.”
The Town of Highlands is, in my judgment, going to lose big in this case. It deserves it. It earned it. But if it does not identify and fire all who permitted, encouraged and contributed to this outcome, it is doubly foolish.
If you pay a few hundred thousands of dollars to learn something, it is beyond stupid not to apply the knowledge you have gained.
As for Officer Olvera, I hope she finds a new job where the department appreciates a capable officer who is diligent, smart and bilingual.