Savannah State sergeant out after harassment investigation

Savannah State sergeant out after harassment investigation

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A second Savannah State University police officer is out of a job after an investigation revealed he violated the university's sexual harassment policy.

Savannah State University says Sgt. Nathaniel Copeland resigned before he could be fired findings of that investigation. Former Police Chief James Barnwell resigned in May for the same reason following complaints of sexual harassment and assault from three subordinate officers.

Attorney's representing those women say this latest case shows a culture of misconduct.

"It just reaffirms what we've been saying from the beginning that there is a culture of sexual harassment," Pierre Ifill, an attorney representing one of the accusers, said. "There's a culture of covering up different incidents by superiors as it relates to employees and I'm just finally glad it's coming to the light

SSU says Sgt. Copeland resigned in lieu of termination on Aug. 16, 2018 after an investigation found he violated the university sexual harassment policy.

"It's an environmental, systemic problem that was out there with that police department," Abda Quillian, an attorney representing two accusers, said. "I mean where inappropriate sexual conduct, where making inappropriate comments about subordinates was just tolerated. It was...it was almost locker room [talk], and that does not excuse it because it's work. People have made the comment in past, 'Oh it's just locker room,' and that's supposed to excuse it. No. I do not expect my client to be subjected to that in the workplace by a superior, and in fact, the law requires that they don't be subjected to that by anyone, much less a superior. A man in power asserting themselves over a subordinate isn't allowed."

The university says Copeland started working there in January 2015.

Quillian says he used his rank as leverage.

"He was a sergeant," she said. "He was in charge of assigning overtime. He had a great benefit he was able to dangle and would send texts to female officers commenting on how sexy they are. When they were off-duty, where are you? What are you wearing?"

She shared some of the texts sent to her client, including, "If you're looking sexy, I'm on the way to your house," "How's about a lap dance?" and "No one knows what I do outside of SSU. I said that to say this, I'm a very discreet person. You were on my mind."

"So dreadfully inappropriate and so blatantly sexual," Quillian said.

Both attorneys say the harassment intensified after their clients filed complaints about former Chief Barnwell.

"Sgt. Copeland began to harass our client because of his close relationship with Chief Barnwell," Ifill said.

"It got so bad that when one of my officers was there and still working and called for backup, no one came," Quillian said. "And that is the scariest thing for any police officer, to realize I just made a complaint and this could affect my life."

Ifill said he's currently in the process of filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against Copeland, Savannah State University and the Board of Regents.

Both say they hope this latest investigation is a sign the university is taking complaints seriously and taking steps to keep everyone on campus safer.

"It's my hope and belief that Savannah State will start to take the allegations and concerns of their employees as well as their students seriously when it comes to any type of misconduct as it relates to their employees," Ifill said.

Quillian said, "I think it's a step in the right direction to curing a very bad, long-running, boys club that's been out there in the police department."

Savannah State University said it takes all complaints of employee misconduct seriously and investigates.

WTOC reached out to Copeland Wednesday to see if he or an attorney representing him had any comment. He didn't respond.

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