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    Officer's remarks deemed improper

    The Largo police supervisor, however, resigned before an inquiry into his actions was complete.

    By CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2001


    LARGO -- Lt. Michael Dunleavy faced a possible demotion to police officer when he resigned last week because an investigator determined he made comments to a female officer that could be considered sexual harassment.

    Dunleavy, however, resigned shortly before the investigation was complete. He said the investigation had nothing to do with his resignation, which he planned before the inquiry began.

    Mike Barnes, a personnel analyst for the city, determined in his investigation that Dunleavy made inappropriate statements to Officer M.J. Overstreet, a woman. Dunleavy came under investigation after a male officer reported hearing Dunleavy say something potentially sexual in nature to Overstreet. The comment referred to masturbation, according to the investigative report that was released this week.

    Though Dunleavy said the comment was not sexual, Overstreet and the complaining officer, Christopher Burke, said they interpreted it to be sexual.

    Overstreet told Barnes during an interview that Dunleavy had made a series of sexual comments to her in the eight years they worked together for the department. At one time, Dunleavy pressed against her and began kissing her while they were in a room alone while on duty. She told him to stop and he apologized, according to the report.

    The revelations are the latest allegation of sexual impropriety in the department, which is recovering from last year's scandal involving its Explorer youth group. Two officers received suspensions as a result of the Explorer investigation; another officer admitted having sex with a 17-year-old female Explorer in 1990 and resigned. Former Chief Jerry Bloechle retired in June, citing stress related to the Explorers investigation as one of the reasons.

    Also last year, a sergeant accused of sexually harassing a volunteer by touching her and making a lewd gesture was demoted. The sergeant also had been disciplined in the Explorer investigation. Because of such misdeeds, city officials required all city employees and volunteers to take sexual harassment awareness training.

    In an interview Friday, Dunleavy said he never touched Overstreet. He acknowledged making some sexual comments to Overstreet, but said it was friendly banter that went both ways. Overstreet never gave him the impression it was making her uncomfortable, he said.

    "In retrospect, when I got promoted, I should have taken the lead and said, "We can't continue this now that I'm a supervisor,' " he said.

    Overstreet said the comments made her uncomfortable, but she never reported it, according to the investigative report. Barnes noted in a draft copy of his conclusions that he felt there is "extreme reluctance to report or discuss actions taken by a supervisor."

    "That was one thing that bothered me," Barnes said Friday. "No employee should feel they are unable to go to a supervisor" with a complaint.

    However, Barnes said he does not think that problem to be particularly severe at the Police Department.

    Police Chief Lester Aradi, who just took over as chief this week, said he has not been with the department long enough to know whether that problem exists. He said he wants a department where employees feel comfortable approaching supervisors about problems.

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