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Pennsylvania Police Department Accused of Sexism

Brandi Courtesis lost her job with the Gettysburg force after saying a colleague sexually harassed her. The accused, fired for another reason, may be back in uniform soon.

Photograph by Joe Zlomek/Wikimedia Commons

When Brandi Courtesis interviewed to become an officer in the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, police department in 2013, she said she was asked if she planned to have more children and if she could handle inappropriate and sexual comments. At age 29, she was hired in June 2013 and became the only full-time female officer.

Courtesis alleged in a federal lawsuit that fellow officer Michael Carricato began sexually harassing her in September 2015. The two had briefly dated more than a year earlier. Courtesis said Carricato talked about the size of his penis and the number of women he had sex with to other officers, according to the lawsuit filed in February 2017. All of this was done in Courtesis’s presence.

Courtesis complained about Carricato’s behavior to her direct supervisor, Sgt. Larry Weikert, who acknowledged Carricato’s behavior was inappropriate but took no action except to tell Courtesis to speak with the police chief. After she did so, in November 2015, Chief Joe Dougherty issued a discipline memo to both Courtesis and Carricato. This was the only official reprimand Carricato ever received, according to the lawsuit. When Courtesis confronted Weikert to find out why she was being disciplined, he threw the memo and a pen against the wall and said, “I don’t need this shit.”

About two weeks later, Carricato tried to secretly record a conversation he had with Courtesis on a department-issued body camera. But about six minutes into their talk, Courtesis noticed that the red light on the camera was on. When asked, Carricato admitted to recording, and he continued to do so for about 25 more minutes. According to the civil complaint, he threatened her in an effort to get her to retract her complaints against him. Carricato said he would “do everything in his power to make sure [Courtesis was] dragged down with [him].”

In December 2015, Courtesis informed the department about Carricato’s threatening statements and found the footage on department servers. Pennsylvania law requires that all people involved in a recorded conversation give their consent.

No action was taken to remedy the situation or to terminate Carricato. He continued to harass Courtesis for a year and a half. In that time, Courtesis filed complaints against Carricato; department officials told her to thicken her skin and she was passed over for promotions. Carricato, however, was given the opportunity to attend training to be promoted to a field training officer.

In March 2017, the issue of Carricato’s recording was referred to District Attorney Brian Sinnett for possible prosecution and Carricato was placed on administrative leave. In June that year, Courtesis reached a settlement on the allegations of sexual harassment with the borough. Gettysburg paid Courtesis more than $213,000. In exchange, Courtesis agreed to resign from the police department because of “irreconcilable differences.” She also agreed not to make any disparaging comments about the borough, the police department, or Carricato.

When Carricato returned to active duty in October 2017, he was still under criminal investigation for the recording he made of Courtesis two years earlier. Because of the investigation, Sinnett informed Chief Dougherty that he considered Carricato to be an unreliable witness and would not prosecute any cases based on Carricato’s “uncorroborated observations.”

Gettysburg has a small police department of about a dozen full-time officers, most of whom patrol alone. Often an individual officer’s testimony is the only basis for opening a criminal case. In Gettysburg, and in most counties in Pennsylvania, police officers can file criminal charges without conferring with the district attorney first and can even seek plea deals on their own in low-level crimes.

Sinnett’s decision, not the alleged sexual harassment or the possible criminal charges, prompted borough officials to fire Carricato on Nov. 13, 2017. Three days later, Sinnett charged Carricato with a felony wiretap violation and a misdemeanor count of official oppression. If convicted, Carricato would most likely face a probation sentence or a few months in county jail and would no longer be eligible for work as a police officer.

To avoid such a conviction, Carricato entered into the county’s accelerated rehabilitative disposition program in June 2018. For the course of the yearlong program, Carricato was required to remain under supervised probation and pay more than $2,000 in fines and fees. A stipulation of Carricato’s participation in the program was that his record would not be expunged.

Police officers in Pennsylvania can have their certification revoked because of a criminal conviction. Although potential employers can see that Carricato was charged with a felony, his successful completion of the rehabilitation program means he will not carry a criminal conviction. When Carricato’s punishment was announced, Sinnett told reporters that Carricato could still be a police officer but he did not believe Carricato had a desire to do so.

However, Carricato, through his representation in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union 776, had already filed a grievance seeking his reinstatement. Less than two months after allowing Carricato to enter in the diversionary program, Sinnett was informed he would have to testify in an arbitration hearing as part of the grievance process.

The union argued that the borough did not have just cause to fire Carricato and that it violated the department’s collective bargaining agreement, which allows only for a disciplinary firing. The union argued that the borough did not discipline Carricato for recording his conversation with Courtesis, but fired him as an administrative matter based on Sinnett’s decision, which the union disputed, noting that Sinnett had called Carricato as a witness even after he began the criminal investigation.

The allegations of sexual harassment against Carricato and the contents of the criminal charges filed against him were not brought up during the arbitration hearing. Neither Courtesis’s name nor any mention of sexual harassment allegation filed against Carricato appear in any of the borough’s exhibits during arbitration or in the more than 170-page transcript from Carricato’s arbitration hearing.

The circumstances around Carricato’s harassment of Courtesis were kept so hidden that, in an opinion issued on May 9, arbiter James Darby wrote that Carricato was being disciplined for dishonesty but had never been given notice of what he had done wrong.

“[It] would be akin to an employer telling an employee that he or she is being fired for being a liar, but ‘we can’t tell you why,’” Darby wrote.

Darby ordered the police department to rehire Carricato and pay him back pay and benefits.

The borough is awaiting the outcome of its appeal of that decision and officials did not respond to requests for comment.