The Independent Mail by Ray Chandler - January 8, 2012
SENECA, SC — A sexual harassment complaint filed in early December by a female Seneca police officer resulted in a captain’s demotion and the departure of several other officers, Seneca Police Chief John Covington said Monday. Covington released the information Monday in response to a freedom of information request filed by the Independent Mail. A copy of the demotion form was included in the response but in an accompanying letter Covington said the city would decline to release the personnel records of the former police department employees. “We believe the release of information concerning former employees is not a matter of public or general interest and would constitute an unreasonable invasion of personal privacy,” Covington said. The South Carolina Court of Appeals in 2004 allowed limited public access to law enforcement officers personnel files in the ruling of Burton vs York County, but the information sought in that case involved York County sheriff’s deputies still employed by the agency. The records indicate that an unidentified female police officer filed a report on Dec. 1 in which she alleged numerous instances of advances by another officer. The advances included two reported direct propositions of a sexual relationship and instances of touching that the female officer reported made her uncomfortable. She also reported instances of comments by other officers. “At times there have been other officers that made unwanted comments, but not so severe that I have felt so uncomfortable that I have to avoid them,” the officer reported. The names of all officers involved, including the name of the officer filing the report, were redacted from the information released Monday. As a result of the ensuing investigation, Dean Awalt was demoted from captain to corporal, effective Dec. 10, in addition to the other officers involved leaving city employment. In discussions of the matter with the Independent Mail leading up to Monday’s release, Covington reiterated that behavior as reported in this case would not be tolerated in the police department.