Deputy Philly police commissioner embroiled in sexual harassment case

Chief Inspector Evelyn Heath has affirmed Frazier's story.
Chief Inspector Evelyn Heath has affirmed Frazier's story.
Posted: January 03, 2013

DEPUTY COMMISSIONER William Blackburn, one of Philly's top cops, allegedly instructed an aide to browse the Police Department's computer personnel files for photos of female officers so that he could select those he'd like to meet, according to court documents obtained by the Daily News.

The former longtime aide, Officer Walter Maiellano, said that Blackburn, 55, would look at the photos, pick out some he wanted to meet and then direct Maiellano to find out where they worked.

"William Blackburn then would have me drive [him] to meet the female officer. This too occurred regularly," Maiellano wrote in a signed document.

The new allegation is part of an ongoing federal discrimination lawsuit against Blackburn and the city alleging that Blackburn sexually harassed Debra Frazier, a police captain, and retaliated against her when she rebuffed his advances.

"It's shocking that he [Blackburn] would use a police personnel file as his own private dating service," said Frazier's attorney, Brian Puricelli.

"He went to the district so it would appear like he was there on business," Puricelli added. "In reality, he was trying to pick them up."

Blackburn, a 31-year veteran, did not respond to a request for comment, but in interviews with Police Internal Affairs investigators has denied sexually harassing and stalking Frazier. He also denied retaliating against her.

Blackburn has not been charged with a crime. Until recently, Blackburn oversaw Major Investigations, which includes the Homicide, Narcotics and Forensic Sciences units, and Homeland Security.

In November, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey moved Blackburn to handle the largely administrative duties of Support Services.

The move, Ramsey said, was due to the pending retirement of Deputy Commissioner Jack Gaittens.

"That had absolutely nothing to do with any investigation that may have taken place, and nothing to do with what you guys are doing at the Daily News," Ramsey said.

"I just want to make it clear, I have full confidence in him."

Ramsey said that he was unaware of Maiellano's allegations, or of any female officers complaining that Blackburn had looked up information about them.

"I deal with facts. . . . I can't run a police department based on all the he-said/she-said stuff," he said.

"I refuse to run around just following rumors. That stuff sells newspapers, but it doesn't do much for me in terms of trying to run a department."

Harassment allegations

In June 2008, when Frazier was assigned to narcotics, Blackburn began calling and texting her at all hours of the night, asking about her personal life, Frazier claims.

It wasn't unusual for her to receive five or six calls from Blackburn in a day. On a Saturday, Blackburn called, saying he was sitting in a Starbucks, lonely, reading by the window, Frazier said in a complaint.

"What are you doing? Where are you right now?" he allegedly asked her.

Frazier, 50, tried to avoid personal conversations with him, but grew increasingly more uncomfortable. She reported the behavior to her supervisors and to John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 5.

"She asked me to get involved. I told her OK, that I would make a few phone calls to try to get it resolved," McNesby said in an interview with Internal Affairs.

The calls and texting stopped. But Blackburn, Frazier claims, started to stalk and threaten her.

"Debra Frazier refused his advances and he went after her," Puricelli said.

Frazier told investigators that she was walking to her car after leaving the gym one evening around 8, and Blackburn drove up. At first she didn't see him.

"I should have hit you," Blackburn told her as he drove past her, according to Frazier's statement.

Another time at the gym, Frazier was playing racquetball and Blackburn stood outside the glass court, his arms folded, and stared at her for about 20 minutes.

Frazier told Internal Affairs that every time she served the ball, "Blackburn's eyes were glued to my ass."

Frazier and her racquetball partner, Arthur James Moore III, felt so uncomfortable that they stopped playing.

When an investigator asked Moore to describe Blackburn's demeanor, he replied, "Intimidating."

"She stated that he had been doing intimidating things for years," Moore said.

Frazier's sister, Donna Frazier-Byrd, told Internal Affairs that Blackburn called or texted Frazier "when we were on vacation in Florida, when we were going shopping, if we were going to dinner and if [we] were on the phone together. It was pretty constant."

Blackburn also allegedly made suggestive comments to Frazier at work. The narcotics captain works in a plainclothes unit, but Blackburn wanted her to wear her uniform because "I looked cute in it," Frazier alleges.

Blackburn also allegedly asked her numerous intrusive questions about her Muslim faith. And when Frazier used vacation time or adjusted her hours to see her ailing mother in the hospital, Blackburn told her that she, not a lieutenant, had to attend morning meetings.

Blackburn did not insist that her male counterparts do the same, Frazier told investigators.

In March 2011, Frazier filed a complaint with the Police Department's Equal Employment Opportunity Unit. In addition to Frazier, investigators interviewed one former and 10 current police officers, Frazier's sister, her racquetball partner and Blackburn.

Seven people, including five officers, independently corroborated portions of Frazier's allegations. The others said that they had no knowledge of what had or hadn't happened.

"He would call her very late at night and try to make a pretext about work," Chief Inspector Evelyn Heath said in an Internal Affairs interview. "He would tell her that he was alone and that he was lonely."

Frazier confided in Heath, who urged her to file a complaint. "I have never doubted any of the things that she told me," Heath told investigators.

Within a day or two of Heath giving her statement, Blackburn gave Heath a much lower performance rating in her evaluation than he ever had in the past.

"The timing is very suspect," Heath said. "All my previous ratings were glowing."

A way to look for girls

Staff Inspector Jerrold Bates, who was then in the Internal Affairs Bureau, reviewed the case, and found in March that Frazier's allegations could not be sustained.

Bates was the bureau's Internal Affairs' EEO officer in charge of investigating abuse, harassment and discrimination complaints within the department.

He was transferred out of Internal Affairs, however, after the Daily News reported in August that a former aide, Keisha Johnson, had accused Bates of coercing her into a sexual relationship to keep her job.

In an interview with Internal Affairs, Blackburn denied making any romantic advances toward Frazier.

Blackburn said that he and Frazier were "cordial and respectful to each other.

"I don't know why Capt. Frazier is making these allegations, but I can assure you that Capt. Frazier has not been treated any different than other commanders," Blackburn told investigators.

But Puricelli, Frazier's attorney, said it is evident that Blackburn harassed Frazier and tried to use position and power to get what he wanted.

Maiellano's allegations bolster Frazier's claims, Puricelli said.

"Blackburn was using his position to get the girls that appealed to him in the Police Department," Puricelli said.

"It was clearly a way for him to look for girls," he said. "And he used his power to do so."


On Twitter: @barbaralaker

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