Policewoman says she endured years of sexual harassment by internal affairs boss

Keisha Johnson was transferred after complaining about two Internal Affairs staffers who she said made derogatory comments about her and a supervisor. PAUL ABELL / ASSOCIATED PRESS, FOR THE DAILY NEWS
Keisha Johnson was transferred after complaining about two Internal Affairs staffers who she said made derogatory comments about her and a supervisor. PAUL ABELL / ASSOCIATED PRESS, FOR THE DAILY NEWS
Posted: August 09, 2012

IT STARTED with flattery. Staff Inspector Jerrold Bates summoned aide Keisha Johnson into his office in the Philadelphia Police Internal Affairs Bureau. He asked her to take a seat. She was smart, professional, he said. She put people at ease and made him look good. He walked toward Johnson and stood behind her chair.

"You're pretty much a reflection of me," Bates said that day in early 2008, according to Johnson. He placed his hands on the shoulders of her petite 5-foot-5 frame.

Then Bates slipped his fingers underneath her scooped-neck top and began to fondle her breasts, Johnson said.

"I jumped up. I about fell out of my chair," Johnson told the Daily News in a series of phone interviews. "I told him to stop. I told him I didn't feel comfortable. He said, ‘OK.' But he had a weird smirk on his face like he was thinking, ‘So what are you going to do about it?'"

At every opportunity, he brushed up against her in a sexual manner, she said. He told her that he thought of her when he masturbated and asked her if she was wearing a thong, she said.

"After about the third time that he fondled me, he said there was a reason I was working there," she said. "‘You're working a day job — 8 to 4 — and off on weekends. It's hard to get that job. You have a steady shift. For people like you, this is what happens. If you don't like it, I have plenty of people to replace you with.'"

From then on, until December 2011, Bates, who is married and a 21-year veteran, coerced Johnson into a sexual relationship to keep her job at Internal Affairs, Johnson alleges.

She and her attorney, Brian Puricelli, have filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Although the complaint, which is being investigated, is confidential, Johnson described to the Daily News details of Bates' alleged harassment.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has transferred Bates to the Special Operations Bureau, which oversees the Aviation, Canine and Marine units, among others, while Internal Affairs investigates Johnson's allegations. Bates, who has not been charged with a crime, declined to comment.

Johnson, 39, has since resigned from the department and moved to Georgia.

For years, Johnson had kept silent.

"I was in Internal Affairs. Who was I going to tell?" she asked. "I really felt like I had no place to go. I wanted to come forward, but I didn't know if anyone would believe me. And [Bates] was so connected. Who would believe me?"

Ramsey acknowledges that the investigation is troubling and particularly sensitive given that the allegations involve an Internal Affairs boss.

"Obviously it gets more complicated, the higher the rank," Ramsey said. "Sometimes you have to move people out of the chain of command … or make sure there are sufficient layers between them. It's more problematic in that regard."

Ramsey said he doesn't anticipate a conflict of interest from Internal Affairs detectives investigating their former supervisor.

"The investigation is being overseen by two deputy commissioners, and I'll pay close attention once I get the files," Ramsey said. "We don't know what the outcome will be. We'll let the cards fall where they may."

But some observers contend that an outside agency should conduct the investigation.

"This might be something that they want to refer to the feds, or perhaps the state Attorney General's Office, just to give them some distance," said Kelvyn Anderson, interim executive director of the Police Advisory Commission, a civilian-oversight board that hears citizen complaints against police and makes recommendations to the commissioner.

"This is not just some rank-and-file guy. You're talking about an upper-level supervisor who's allegedly done something pretty horrible."

Johnson, for one, considers the Internal Affairs investigation a farce.

"How do you investigate your own person?" she said. "It's a joke."

‘It's a boys' club'

Johnson, a Penn State graduate, had been a Philly cop since 1997. She had known Bates, now 42, for a few years before he joined the Internal Affairs Bureau in September 2007. A couple of months later, Bates asked her if she wanted to be his aide. Johnson agreed because in that bureau, she would have regular day hours. She also considered it a prestigious place to work. Months later, when Bates allegedly fondled Johnson in his office, she repeatedly told him she felt uncomfortable. Bates told her that other women were lined up to take her job, and he showed her photos of them, Johnson said.

"‘This is who will replace you,' he told me. “ ‘She wants to work with me so bad. She told me she'd give me a blowjob every day.'"

Bates, she said, implored her to relax, saying that this was the way things worked in the Police Department.

Some veteran female police officers agree.

"My first week out of the [police] academy, I knew what was up," said one female officer, who requested anonymity. "It's a boys' club, and the only way to get anywhere in the department is to act like a b-i-t-c-h, or to lay down with one of them."

The officer said she has turned down sexual advances from male supervisors during her career, only to find that other male cops pressured her to give in to the bosses' desires.

"That's the culture that we live," the female officer said. "There's no one you can turn to for help. They band together and look out for each other, so you have to learn to be strong enough to stand on your own."

Johnson said she tried to avoid Bates, but being his aide made that nearly impossible. "I had to start driving him around to meetings, and that's when it went to the next level," she said.

One afternoon, she said, he told her to pull the car over at an apartment complex on Roosevelt Boulevard near Bleigh Avenue in Rhawnhurst because he had to pick up something.

"‘Come on in,'" she said he told her. Johnson hovered by the door while Bates went into the apartment. While Bates slipped into the bathroom, Johnson said, she walked into the apartment and saw that it was empty except for a bed and an entertainment center. She scurried back to the doorway.

"The next thing I know, I hear a porn movie start. … I stayed at the door, but he came out without his pants and he was masturbating. He touched my breasts, and in a couple of seconds he had an orgasm. I felt like I was raped."

Johnson took some time off after that day.

"I was traumatized. I didn't want to go back to the office," she said. "I told him several times to stop this. I can't do this. He'd say, ‘OK. Fine.' But his behavior changed. He was the meanest person in the world. He'd talk down to me. He'd treat me badly. And he'd say, ‘Why are you here?' The mental aspect of all this abuse got to me. It made me feel so bad."

Johnson said that ever since she was molested as a child by a family friend, she has been quick to blame herself, has avoided conflict and has put the needs of others, especially men in authority, above her own.

"I wanted to blame him, but I felt powerless," she said, her voice shaking with emotion. "So the cycle would start all over again."

Spiraling down

At the time, Johnson was engaged to a man she had dated for six years, and she became pregnant by him.

"When I was pregnant, there was no physical stuff going on with Bates. At first he commented on how my breasts looked larger," she said. But as her belly swelled, Bates stopped making sexual advances.

"It was like I was safe when I was pregnant," she said.

Her daughter was born three months premature in May 2009, and weighing 2?1/2 pounds, she was sickly.

Johnson returned to work in late 2009, and Bates once again coerced her into a sexual relationship, she said. Her relationship with her fiancé splintered. "I had all this anger and frustration, and I had no outlet for it," she said. "It tore us apart."

Sometimes while Bates had Johnson drive him in his police-issued car, "he'd expose himself and ask if he had a large penis," she said. "He'd rub himself in the car."

He groped her in his office and took her elsewhere for sexual interludes during work hours, she said. On various occasions, he made her drive to an apartment on Krewstown Road in the Northeast, or to his home, his mother's house, and even her own home, she said.

To complicate matters, Bates not only oversaw police internal investigations, he also handled equal-employment-opportunity complaints within the department.

"I had gotten used to being a victim. I believed my career and my reputation would be destroyed if I didn't comply," she said.

"I needed the job, and it was convenient. My daughter had severe health problems. She was my priority," she added. "I needed work flexibility."

But Johnson knew she was spiraling down. In 2010, she started to take a prescribed anti-anxiety medication and by 2011, added an antidepressant. Her doctor suggested she take short medical leaves. Each time, Johnson dreaded returning to work.

It all falls apart

Her tenure in Internal Affairs came to an abrupt end in June. The derailment began last year when Johnson complained to police brass and to the Fraternal Order of Police about two other female Internal Affairs staffers who she said were making derogatory racial remarks about her and a supervisor.

"I was seen as a troublemaker at that point," Johnson said. She was subsequently disciplined for taking a sick day when her daughter was ill.

In December, Johnson ended the sexual relationship with Bates for good, she said. This time, Bates didn't fight back as hard.

"I think he started to get afraid that if I spoke up about misconduct [by others], I would tell about him," she said.

Around the same time, Johnson confided in two Internal Affairs colleagues about how she felt forced into a sexual relationship with Bates.

One of these colleagues, who requested anonymity, confirmed to the Daily News that Johnson had told her about Bates.

Then, in June, Johnson showed up for work one day and was told she was being transferred to a district office. On the first day at her new assignment, she said, she heard someone call her a rat.

"I quit the next day," she said. "I felt like I was a prisoner when I was there. I had to be in a place I could sleep at night."

She moved to Georgia with her daughter and found another job. The Daily News is not disclosing where she lives or works.

"I became fearful after this ordeal," she said.

Last month, the colleague in whom Johnson confided told a police boss and the FOP what Johnson had said about Bates' alleged harassment. Ramsey transferred Bates immediately July 3.

The colleague who reported Bates said she was transferred to a district office later last month.

"I was punished. They threw me out all because I did the right thing," she said. "They're punishing me for following directives."

But if her colleague had kept silent, Johnson said, she never would have filed her complaint.

"I didn't have the courage," she said. "I was going to deal with it on my own. I felt guilt and shame. I would have taken it to my grave. But now, even though it's difficult to relive it, I'm hoping it will help me heal.

“And I'm hoping it will stop it from happening to someone else."

Contact Barbara Laker at 215-854-5933 or lakerb@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @barbaralaker.

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