DE's Top Cop Suspended
DOVER, DE-October 28, 2004 — The head of the Delaware State Police was placed on administrative leave Wednesday after a female captain filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him.
State police superintendent Col. Aaron Chaffinch was suspended from his duties amid allegations that he refused to put women in command positions and repeatedly made sexually offensive remarks at work.
"He has been placed on administrative leave," said state police spokesman Lt. Joseph Aviola, who referred questions to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
A spokeswoman for department secretary David Mitchell was not immediately available for comment Wednesday evening.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Wilmington, Capt. Barbara Conley alleged that Chaffinch twice denied her a promotion to major last year because she is a woman, and that he has engaged in a variety of inappropriate behavior on the job.
The alleged behavior by Chaffinch includes reciting sexually explicit limericks, referring to a secretary's breasts in a derogatory manner, suggesting that he wanted to have sex with female employees, and publicly referring to his own genitals with a nickname.
"There was even more stuff we didn't put in the complaint because of the whole decorum of the court," said Conley's attorney, Stephen Neuberger.
Neuberger said Conley, a 22-year veteran and one of three female captains on the force, has been denied a promotion to major because Chaffinch doesn't think women can do the job. Among other things, the lawsuit alleges that Chaffinch belongs to a Freemason organization that excludes women and minorities.
Conley named Chaffinch, Mitchell and the police agency as defendants in the lawsuit. She is seeking damages and a promotion to major.
Neuberger said Chaffinch's suspension was long overdue.
"I applaud the secretary for finally stepping up to the plate to do what the governor should have done a long, long time ago," he said.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner did not immediately return telephone messages.
Chaffinch assumed temporary command of the state police in October 2001 after Minner forced Col. Gerald R. Pepper Jr. to retire.
At the time, the police agency had become the target of lawsuits and state and federal investigations into alleged discrimination against blacks and women.
Chaffinch's appointment as police commander was made permanent in February 2002.
Since then, he has been named as a defendant in several lawsuits filed by Neuberger's firm.
Last year, a federal jury ordered Chaffinch to pay more than $100,000 in damages for improperly transferring a subordinate in an act of revenge. Sgt. Christopher Foraker claimed that Chaffinch transferred him in retaliation for Foraker's reprimand of a trooper who was a friend of Chaffinch.
In January, a federal jury ruled that Chaffinch and Mitchell's predecessor, James Ford Jr., discriminated against two white troopers because of their race, awarding Cpls. William Bullen and Jeffrey Giles about $350,000 in damages.
Also this year, Chaffinch and deputy superintendent Lt. Col. Thomas MacLeish were the focus of an internal investigation following a complaint by Capt. Gregory Warren, who alleged in a federal lawsuit that Minner repeatedly blocked his promotion because he supported her Republican opponent in the 2000 election.
State officials agreed in July to settle Warren's lawsuit. As part of the settlement, Warren agreed to retire from the force and drop his internal complaint.
An outside consultant's investigation into Warren's internal affairs complaint found that MacLeish violated a job performance standard by using profanity at meetings with other police personnel.
The investigation also revealed that there was no clear agency prohibition against consuming alcoholic beverages and operating a state police vehicle while off duty. One of Warren's accusations against Chaffinch was that he drove a state vehicle after drinking.
Mitchell said at the time that the rules would be clarified to clearly state that no trooper, with the exception of an officer working undercover, can operate a state vehicle after drinking alcohol, whether on duty or off duty.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)