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Case against police chief near end

By STEVE HUETTEL

Revised, June 22, 2000

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


TAMPA -- The city will pay more than $100,000 to close the case of a former Tampa police officer who accused police Chief Bennie Holder of sexually harassing her.

A federal court jury found two years ago that Holder did not harass Lee J. Pope when she worked directly for him in 1994 and 1995.

But the jury decided the city retaliated against Pope for filing a complaint and ordered it to pay her $23,190, and $83,392 in attorneys' fees.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld the verdict in recent weeks, and attorneys for Pope did not file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court within the time allowed, said Thomas Gonzalez, the attorney who represented the city.

"That time is gone. It's over," he said.

In July 1995, Pope's attorney sent a letter to the city charging that Holder made advances toward his client, then an assistant in the chief's office, and offered her a promotion in return for sexual favors.

Attorney Mark Kelly implied that Pope would drop the complaint if the city paid stress-related medical expenses and the salary she would have received if she had been promoted to corporal.

But a day after receiving the letter, city officials held a news conference to announce an investigation into the allegations.

Pope resigned from the Police Department in January 1996 after she was transferred to street patrol and concluded her career was over. She sued the city for nearly $200,000.

In his trial testimony, Holder strongly denied inappropriate acts or comments toward Pope. An internal city investigation earlier cleared him of a criminal charge of battery.

Jurors absolved him of wrongdoing. But they decided the city retaliated against Pope by refusing to give her the promotion promised before she filed the complaint and awarded her $23,190 for pain and suffering caused by the actions of city officials.

Tampa City Council is scheduled Thursday to approve spending $106,582 to pay the award and Pope's legal fees, plus interest. Legal fees from her appeal are not included, Gonzalez said. Pope's attorneys could not be reached for comment.

-- Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at huettel@sptimes.com.

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