In a June 3, 2008, incident caught on videotape, Officer Pilar Ortiz-Buckley was sitting in the police station staff room when she was threatened by public works supervisor Troy Henderson, who then lunged at her, according to Steve Wagstaffe, the chief deputy district attorney of San Mateo County.
The alleged assault exacerbated Officer Ortiz-Buckley's existing work-related injury and caused a new one, according to her complaint.
The criminal case is set to go to trial on June 22.
In her lawsuit against the town of Atherton and Mr. Henderson, filed April 29, Officer Ortiz-Buckley alleges that she suffered ongoing sexual harassment from Mr. Henderson, and that once she reported the incident, she faced retaliation and disability discrimination related to the injury she suffered.
Mr. Henderson referred all comments to his attorney, Jacklyn A. Bentley, who is representing him in the criminal case.
"This is tearing me apart, tearing my family apart," he told The Almanac.
"Mr. Henderson firmly maintains his innocence in the matter, as he has from the very beginning," said Ms. Bentley in an e-mail to The Almanac. "The case is currently set for a jury trial, where Mr. Henderson believes his side of the story will become known and prevail."
Ms. Bentley said she was unable to comment further on the case.
Atherton City Attorney Wynne Furth said she could not comment on pending litigation, and said the town has not yet responded to the complaint.
According to Officer Ortiz-Buckley's lawsuit, Mr. Henderson, 58, has a long history of sexually harassing female town employees, stretching back at least 15 of the 33 years that he has worked for Atherton. At least three formal complaints were made against Mr. Henderson over the years, and his behavior is well known to everyone in town hall, she claims in her lawsuit.
The town's only response to the sexual harassment complaints has been to issue reprimands and require Mr. Henderson to take sensitivity training, she said in her complaint.
"It's a slap on the wrist," said John Scott Bonagofsky, Officer Ortiz-Buckley's attorney.
Caught on video
According to Officer Ortiz-Buckley's account of the June 3 incident, Mr. Henderson followed her into the police station staff room while leering at her and making verbal sexual advances.
"Henderson followed Officer Ortiz down the hallway, and as he often did, began making sexual comments towards Officer Ortiz about her needing a man like him to 'quench her fires,' and telling Officer Ortiz what he would do to her if she went out with him," the lawsuit says. "As she typically did in these circumstances, Officer Ortiz told Henderson she was not interested."
Mr. Henderson allegedly continued making sexual remarks, and when he got inappropriately close to her, she warned him to get out of her space, she claims in the lawsuit.
"Suddenly, Henderson lunged at Officer Ortiz and grabbed her, and Officer Ortiz was forced to defend herself from the much larger man," the complaint states. Another officer then walked into the room, defusing the situation, the lawsuit says.
The next day, Officer Ortiz-Buckley asked to see the security camera video, and was told by Jeanne Enberg, the police department's communications manager, that the incident needed to be reported to then-Chief Bob Brennan. The police department referred the investigation of the incident to the county District Attorney's Office.
"It's all on video," said Mr. Wagstaffe. "We've been talking to other (Atherton) employees with similar situations."
Officer Ortiz-Buckley's lawsuit also claims that Assistant City Manager Eileen Wilkerson told Ms. Enberg to "get rid" of the video. Ms. Wilkerson disputed that allegation to an investigator for the DA's office, saying she asked Ms. Enberg to remove the video from her desktop.
A stay-away order prepared by Chief Brennan was given to City Manager Jerry Gruber, but was never served on Mr. Henderson, the lawsuit claims.
Officer Ortiz-Buckley later was granted a three-year restraining order against Mr. Henderson in county Superior Court, requiring him to stay five yards away from her, and to stay away from her home and her children's school.
When the incident occurred, Officer Ortiz-Buckley was working part-time while recovering from a back injury stemming from an April 2007 training exercise. After the altercation with Mr. Henderson, her back injury worsened, and a new injury to her neck was diagnosed, leaving her unable to work, she said in her complaint.
After physical therapy, she returned to work on limited duty at the end of November 2008. Her lawsuit claims that town officials did not try to accommodate her by offering her alternate open positions in the police department.
Officer Ortiz-Buckley's doctor cleared her to return to work, but with a weight-limitation that prevents her from wearing the 35-pound gun belt that's part of a patrol officer's uniform.
Instead, Officer Ortiz-Buckley claims she was told to retire from the police department. She's been on administrative leave since January, after using up all her vacation time, her attorney said.
She was hired by the Atherton Police Department as an officer in 2000, and worked for two years as a school resource officer and juvenile detective, and then returned to patrol duty. Prior to that, she worked as a police dispatcher and was promoted to communications manager.
Officer Ortiz-Buckley is "an excellent police officer," her attorney, Mr. Bonagofsky, told The Almanac. "The people she works with like her. Everything was fine until she reported Troy, and all of a sudden, they tried to get rid of her."
Officer Ortiz-Buckley's workers compensation claim was denied by a claims adjuster who said that she, not Mr. Henderson, was the "initial aggressor" in the incident.
"You can see on the video that he lunges at her, she puts a police hold on him to get him off of her, and somehow, she's the aggressor," said Mr. Bonagofsky. "That's what the legal argument is, but I don't think anyone who sees the video would believe that."
Officer Ortiz-Buckley claims she suffered additional retaliation at work, saying the town filled a communications manager position and a detective position without offering them to her, even though it was legally required to do so.
Police Chief Glenn Nielsen said he was unable to comment on pending litigation.
Officer Ortiz-Buckley said she was also excluded from town staff events because of her restraining order against Mr. Henderson, according to her complaint.
Her lawsuit states that when then-Chief Brennan asked City Manager Gruber whether Mr. Henderson was told to stay away from a staff party, Mr. Gruber told him no, "because Henderson was black and over 50 (years old)."
Officer Ortiz-Buckley claims she was intentionally left off the invitation list for the town staff's 2008 holiday barbecue.
"Ms. Wilkerson informed Officer Ortiz that Henderson was cooking at the barbecue and this is why Officer Ortiz had not been invited," she said in her complaint. "(She) told Ms. Wilkerson that she was shocked that Atherton was treating her this way. ... Atherton's response to Officer Ortiz's complaint in this regard was to cancel the holiday barbecue."