An Arroyo Grande police officer filed a civil lawsuit against the police department and its chief, alleging a culture of sexual discrimination and retaliation against herself and two other female officers.
Kimberly Martin—a 13-year veteran of the Arroyo Grande Police Department and the 2002 officer of year—made a number of allegations in a complaint filed in September 2010, including sexual harassment, disability discrimination, failure to provide reasonable accommodation, and retaliation.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
“[Chief Steve] Annibali’s harassment of the plaintiff has been unending, severe, and humiliating,” the complaint reads.
Martin joined the department in 1998 as a dispatcher and attended the academy during evenings to become a reserve officer. She was promoted to full-time officer in 2000.
According to the complaint, Martin became the victim of sexual harassment and discrimination when Annibali took over as chief in 2007. Martin alleges that complaints to Annibali regarding the conduct of a colleague were swept under the rug. The complaint states that the officer in question was allowed to take an early retirement and no other disciplinary measures were levied against him.
The complaint further alleges that Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara singled out Martin and two other female officers in a May 2007 mandatory department meeting for having brought claims of sexual harassment he felt were “possibly a misunderstanding and would be cleared up soon.” Annibali allegedly refused to address the mayor’s “misguided” comments.
Furthermore, Martin contends she and other female officers were routinely overlooked for promotions that were instead given to Annibali’s “golden boys,” or male officers he allegedly favored.
According to the department’s dispatch office, Martin has been out of the office on disability for approximately a year and a half.
In an October 2010 written response to the allegations, the city argued that it should not be held responsible for her injuries, that the officers were acting within the law, and that Martin had missed the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit, among other defenses.
Shortly after New Times’ Dec. 16 reporting on the complaint, Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams issued a written response to this paper and subsequently to other media.
“After review, we strongly believe that there is no merit to the allegations in the lawsuit,” Adams wrote. “The city has the utmost confidence in Chief Annibali and his leadership of the department since his arrival in 2007.”
“The Arroyo Grande Police Department maintains the highest standards of professionalism and fairness in everything we do,” Annibali wrote to New Times in response to the complaint. “The public expects integrity from its police, and I intend to honor this trust by having the administrative courage to hold people accountable.”
Adams said the lawsuit only came about after Martin was the subject of an investigation by the District Attorney’s Office “for other issues.”
According to the complaint, Martin was the subject of a 2009 investigation by the District Attorney’s Office—at the request of Annibali, the complaint alleges—for misusing an office fax machine and misrepresenting herself in a child custody matter. No charges were filed, and the District Attorney’s Office did not return New Times’ calls for comment on the investigation.
Regarding the specific allegations directed toward himself, Mayor Ferrara told New Times the only statement he made at the mandatory department meeting was that the city has a zero tolerance policy toward sexual harassment.
“I gave it to them straight, and I gave it to them direct,” Ferrara said.
Jay Hieatt, the attorney representing the city in the lawsuit, said the process is still in the deposition phase, and Annibali is scheduled to make his first legal statement in February 2012.
“As painfully slow as it looks, it’s not unusual for a case of this complexity,” Hieatt said.
Neither Martin nor Kevin Boyle, her Calabasas-based attorney, returned calls for comment.