Iredell sheriff’s officer fired after sexual harassment lawsuit settled

An Iredell County sheriff’s patrol officer was fired Tuesday after the county paid $475,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by two women against the officer and Sheriff Phil Redmond.

Suzanne Wick and Lisa Mangiardi filed the lawsuit in 2012, claiming that Ben Jenkins, who was a domestic violence investigator, made lewd sexual remarks to them and continually propositioned and stalked them. Both women were victims of domestic violence, the lawsuit said.

The women said in their lawsuit that Redmond and other sheriff’s officials did little to punish Jenkins, who until Tuesday afternoon remained a patrol officer earning $41,586. His boss, Maj. Marty Byers, said he couldn’t legally discuss why Jenkins was dismissed. Jenkins couldn’t be reached.

The women settled the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Statesville in late August for a total of $475,000, attorneys for both sides confirmed Tuesday.

Wick and Mangiardi met with reporters in the office of their Charlotte lawyer, Joshua Van Kampen. Van Kampen’s colleague, Sean Herrmann, and Raleigh lawyer Carlos Mahoney assisted in the case.

The women said they wanted to speak out to give courage to other victims of sexual harassment and domestic violence.

With domestic violence cases in the news involving NFL players, “it’s time” to speak out, Mangiardi told the Observer.

Mangiardi said her message to other victims is: “You don’t need to accept it, no matter who you are, whatever age. … You are not alone, I am not alone and nobody else is, either.”

Both women questioned why Jenkins was still an officer. Hours later, Byers announced that Jenkins had been fired.

In the lawsuit, Mangiardi said Jenkins began sexually harassing and stalking her after he overheard her talking about her ex-husband. She was a court mediator at the time. She now is a custody mediator for the state in four mountain counties.

In one 2008 encounter, according to the lawsuit, Jenkins shut his office door with Mangiardi inside. He told her she would eventually have to start dating and asked if she “wanted some of this” while swaying his hips, the lawsuit states. When she refused, Jenkins grabbed his genitals and asked, “You mean you don’t want any of this?” according to the lawsuit.

Wick was a domestic violence victim who said she’d walked into the sheriff’s domestic violence unit with her four children for help.

Jenkins was the lead detective on her case and ended up continually propositioning and stalking her, according to the lawsuit. He threatened to drop the charges against her ex-husband if she didn’t comply, the lawsuit states.

“He was representing some of the most vulnerable women in the community and made a comment that dating domestic violence victims was ‘like shooting fish in a barrel,’ ” Wick said Tuesday, referring to a quote cited in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed the Sheriff’s Office failed to take appropriate action against Jenkins and never provided sexual harassment training for its officers until three years after one of the women’s 2009 complaints.

According to the lawsuit, Iredell County Chief Deputy Rick Dowdle said Jenkins admitted to him that he sexually harassed a woman. Dowdle recommended that Jenkins be demoted to jail deputy at the time.

Sheriff’s Maj. Darren Campbell said Redmond was unavailable because he was at the hospital bedside of his wife, who was gravely ill with cancer. Redmond’s wife died Tuesday. Redmond isn’t seeking re-election in November to the post he’s held since 1994.

Campbell, who is over internal investigations and is the GOP nominee for sheriff Nov. 4, said he found Wick credible when she complained about the harassment.

“It was immoral, offensive and a disgrace,” Campbell said, adding that it was Dowdle’s call at the time to discipline Jenkins. Dowdle couldn’t be reached Tuesday.

Campbell said the office had received no other such complaints.

Campbell said claims in the lawsuit that videotaped interviews in the case had been lost are untrue. No such tapes were made because the videotape equipment malfunctioned, Campbell said. Investigators took handwritten notes, which still exist, he said. “You cannot lose something you never possessed,” Campbell said of the tapes.

Campbell said the Sheriff’s Office updated its sexual harassment policies with its attorney in 2012, and every deputy then underwent updated training.