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A second officer files suit against Arroyo Grande police

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A second female police officer has filed a civil lawsuit against the Arroyo Grande Police Department and its chief, seeking unspecified damages for alleged sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

According to court documents obtained by New Times, senior officer Michelle Cota filed a lawsuit Dec. 22, six days after a similar lawsuit from another female officer was made public.

Cota’s lawsuit accuses top department officials of refusing to address employee complaints of sexual harassment and engaging in retaliatory action against those female officers who complained.

“Our investigation is not yet complete, but we believe other women have also been subjected to discriminatory animus and retaliation for their complaints of unfair and unequal treatment,” Cota’s Santa Barbara-based attorney, Christine Adams, wrote in a statement to New Times.

The lawsuit is similar to another filed by officer Kimberly Martin in 2010. Like Martin, Cota alleges that her complaints about the behavior of a male colleague went unanswered by department officials. She further alleges the colleague wasn’t disciplined but was instead offered a full retirement.

Cota was named Officer of the Year in 2004.

Police Chief Steven Annibali, who is specifically named in the lawsuit, couldn’t be reached for comment as of press time. And while the city has yet to file a legal response, City Manager Steve Adams told New Times the city will aggressively defend against the lawsuit.

“Since Chief Annibali was hired in 2007, he has worked hard to increase accountability in order to provide the most efficient and effective public safety services possible,” Adams wrote in an e-mail response. “Unfortunately, in the public personnel system under which we operate, litigation is all too often a strategic repercussion of such efforts.”

Adams added that Cota is currently on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into “violations of city personnel regulations and policies,” but because of privacy issues, he couldn’t disclose any specifics.

According to Adams, all supervisors are required to attend sexual harassment training every two years, and the city has taken “additional steps” to make the training available to all its employees.

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