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Philadelphia Police Commissioner resigns after lawsuit alleges harassment, discrimination in department

Philadelphia Police Commissioner resigns after lawsuit alleges harassment, discrimination in department Posted on 08/21/2019

August 21, 2019

Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner Richard Ross, Jr. resigned Tuesday amid allegations of sexual harassment and race and gender discrimination within the law enforcement department that were waged in a federal lawsuit.

The plaintiffs, Corporal Audra McCowan and Officer Jennifer Allen have each served on the city’s police force for more than 15 years. The 104-page suit outlines alleged harassment the two women of color experienced dating back to at least 2014. 

McCowan also alleges she and Ross had an affair from 2009-11. She claims he did not adequately address the harassment complaints she later filed against her colleagues “in retribution for her breaking off their two-year affair.” 

On Wednesday, outside Police Headquarters, Ross, 55, told reporters, “I have never targeted a person, I have never sought retribution on a person personally or professionally.”

Ross opted to leave his role, he said, noting, “I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t say fatigue had set in anyway, independent of this issue.”

Ross’ resignation comes less than a week after an almost 8-hour North Philadelphia standoff in which six police officers were wounded by a shooter with an AR-15 assault rifle. 

Two days after the altercation, Governor Tom Wolf signed an executive order creating a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be housed in the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, that will operate a Special Council on Gun Violence aimed at eradicating similar incidents across the state. 

Mayor Jim Kenney immediately appointed Deputy Commissioner Christine Coulter on Tuesday as Acting Commissioner while the search for Ross’ permanent replacement begins. 

The move makes history by dubbing Coulter as the first woman leader of Philadelphia police. Coulter has worked in law enforcement for more than three decades, including in investigations, narcotics intelligence and patrol operations. 

Coulter is also one of a dozen defendants named in the lawsuit filed by Allen and McCowan. 

Ross, part of the Philadelphia Police Department since 1989, started as police commissioner in January 2016. While under his purview, the unit came under fire in June when the findings of the Plain View Project, a database compiling violent, racist and homophobic social media posts from officers across the country, went viral.

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference at City Hall, Kenney revealed he was initially ambivalent about accepting Ross’ resignation, originally submitted Monday night. The mayor added he did not immediately have all the facts regarding the lawsuit. 

“He made the right decision for himself and for the city,” Kenney said, adding he didn’t want to “forget all the positive things that happened” under Ross’ leadership. 

Brian Abernathy, the city’s managing director, said an independent third-party investigation will be “looking at broader issues” within the police department moving forward.

Coulter expressed a desire to alleviate violence in the city and “change and improve on relationships with our community.” 

“I will take that hard look, make sure that the right folks are in the right place and that we’re structurally organized to be the most effective department that we can be,” she said.