Was an ex-Long Beach police sergeant’s testicle T-shirt worn at a sex harassment training seminar offensive?
Testimony will resume Monday in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom in the whistleblower employment case of the former Long Beach cop.
The city of Long Beach’s human resources officer testified Friday she reported the former police sergeant for wearing the potentially offensive T-shirt to the sexual harassment training seminar in 2011, but she was surprised that he was punished.
Addressing a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing trial of ex-Sgt. Timothy O’Hara’s lawsuit against the city, Sherriel L. Murry-Myles said O’Hara’s T-shirt had the word “testicle” on it and some people who saw it could believe it constituted sexual harassment.
“I was concerned that people could think that the Police Department was not taking sexual harassment seriously,” Murry-Myles said.
O’Hara, a 53-year-old former Navy SEAL, sued the city in September 2013. He alleges he was subjected to relentless scrutiny and ostracized for alerting superiors to alleged overtime violations by the Long Beach Harbor Patrol, which is a separate entity from the Police Department. The city maintains he was disciplined for wearing the T-shirt to the seminar in September 2011.
Then-Long Beach Police Department Chief Jim McDonnell — now Los Angeles County sheriff — suspended O’Hara for 20 hours, transferred him from the Port Security Unit to patrol and also also removed him from the dive team. O’Hara appealed and a Civil Service Commission ruling restored him to his old job, but upheld the suspension.
O’Hara bought the T-shirt at a gun store near his current home in Cody, Wyoming, and attended the seminar on a day off from work.
In her testimony, Murry-Myles said she told O’Hara during the seminar that she was not happy with his T-shirt. She said he did not apologize at that time and did not seem to take her concerns seriously.
“He was joking around,” she said.
Murry-Myles said she was offended when O’Hara offered to take the shirt off in front of her.
“I walked away because he was making light of what I was trying to tell him,” she said.
She testified that no one else at the seminar complained about being offended by the shirt. She said she felt obligated to file a complaint with the chief’s office and addressed the issues with a deputy chief.
However, she said she did not expect O’Hara would receive the punishment that was handed down.
“I was surprised that he was disciplined,” Murry-Myles said.
Asked by Deputy City Attorney Victoria Silcox if she thought O’Hara’s punishment was too severe, Murry-Myles replied, “I don’t have an opinion as to whether it was excessive or not.”
Murry-Myles said O’Hara finally apologized to her about the T-shirt in a subsequent email. She said accepted the apology at first, but then changed her view when he asked her if she would be a witness for him at his Civil Service hearing.
“I advised him that I was the one who brought the complaint forward, so I would be representing the city,” Murry-Myles said.
The police department’s Port Security Unit was established in 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks with the goal of keeping a constant police presence at the Port of Long Beach. The unit works along with the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies to patrol waterways and maintain safety.
The Long Beach Harbor Patrol is a division of the Port of Long Beach focused on security and public safety.
O’Hara said he suffered neck and back injuries while helping move a suspect shot by police to a place where he could get medical treatment. He said the combination of being hurt and his unhappiness with LBPD management after he returned to the Port Security Unit prompted him to retire in 2016 rather than in 2019 as he planned. He joined the LBPD in 1993.
–City News Service