In the 10-day sexual harassment trial regarding the case brought by Lt. Angela Walton of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department against Cmdr. Joseph Fennell, also of the LASD, after a comparatively short deliberation, on Tuesday morning the jury found—in a vote of 9-3—that there had been no sexual harassment. (Unlike in a criminal trial, the jury does not have to reach a unanimous verdict.)
In an interview following the trial, the three female jurors who voted that Walton had been sexually harassed said that the nine who voted against the harassment charge spoke mostly about certain allegations by the plaintiff’s attorney along with witnesses brought by plaintiff Fennell, having to do with some of Walton’s behavior that the jurors felt was not rejecting of Fennell, and also the accusation that Walton had dressed provocatively at work.
Nohemi Gutierrez Ferguson, Fennell’s attorney, put a strong focus on what she contended was Walton’s style of dressing during her tenure in the LASD’s personnel unit when she was working on a recruitment team and represented the department at events and in photos on billboards, that she had worn tight skirts and form-fitted tops. (Walton and another witness from personnel disputed this claim and said she dressed “professionally.”)
“She dressed to impress,” said Ferguson in closing arguments.
Ferguson also criticized Walton’s more conservative style of dress in the courtroom. (Think Michelle Obama in cardigan sweaters and JCrew skirts.) “Has she ever worn her hair down [during the trial]?” the attorney asked. “She’s manipulating you.”
(Ferguson was also the attorney representing the County of Los Angeles, which was a co-defendant in the trial.)
A MENTOR WITH A DOWNSIDE?
Lt. Walton, her witnesses, and her attorney told a very different story.
According to Jamon Hicks, Walton’s attorney, soon after she met Cmdr. Fennell, he told Walton that she needed a mentor on the department and said he’d like to fill that role.
In certain ways Fennell seemed to do just that, inviting her into various social situations where she could network and, in the Spring of 2008, requesting that Walton work under him at the department’s Personnel Administration Bureau (PAB), which was considered to be a plum assignment. Walton went to work in personnel and ended up being one of the faces used on recruiting posters. (The other face above belongs to former undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s wife.)
However, according to Walton’s attorney, Fennell—who was and still is married— also repeatedly expressed an intense interest in Walton sexually, allegedly sending her raunchy texts and emails (“You got something I seriously want”), while also making suggestive remarks ranging from “You know what I want,” and “You seriously owe me,” to the most colorful of the bunch… “I would f*** the dog sh** out of you.”
(Fennell admitted in court to sending one of the raunchy messages, but denied sending or saying any of the rest.)
LAS VEGAS AND THE BONAVENTURE
In 2006, according to Walton, Fennell’s attentions ramped up at a party during a multi-day law enforcement event held yearly in Las Vegas when Fennell allegedly leaned over in a public setting and licked Walton’s stomach, which she says she found humiliating.
A female LAPD detective who is a friend of Walton’s and who had been her companion on the night in question, testified that she’d seen the incident and that Walton was very upset about it.
On Fennell’s side of the witness equation, LASD Chief Roberta Abner and LASD Chief Buddy Goldman testified and said they too had been at the party and never saw any such stomach licking.
Walton’s boyfriend at the time of the alleged Vegas incident, said that she’d confided to him about her distress, but that she asked him not to interfere, suggesting it would make things worse.
Days later, according to Walton’s official complaint, Fennell apologized for his actions.
Two years later still, according to Walton, when she went to work for PAB, it was a mixed blessing. She enjoyed the work but, Walton contends, Fennell continued to make overtures toward her. She described multiple situations in which Fennell would arrange a meeting outside of work time to discuss recruitment plans, and then at some point would turn the conversation in a sexual direction.
According to both Walton and Fennell, the most dramatic encounter took place at the Bonaventure Hotel where they were to have had dinner and discuss a recruiting report that was upcoming. When she arrived, however, Fennell was not at the rooftop restaurant but in a hotel room and allegedly told her to come up.
Unwisely she did. Walton said that Fennell assaulted her in the room. Fennell said that, to the contrary, in the room it was she who behaved in a highly sexually provocative way toward him. He admitted to a certain amount of body kissing and/or fondling.
Both sides agreed that the two did not have sex that night or any other night.
Walton said that she never encouraged Fennell’s advances in any way, and that, while he had been helpful to her, she was afraid of him.
WHO CHASED WHOM?
Fennell’s attorney, Nohemi Ferguson, contends that although Fennell considered having an “adulterous” affair with Walton, it was she who chased him and pushed for a sexual relationship and, according to Fennell, engaged in phone sex with him on more than one occasion.
(Walton, for her part, brought in several witnesses who said she had a policy of never dating married men, and had no romantic interest in Fennell whatsoever.)
Both sides talked about why Walton didn’t file a complaint with the department back in 2006 or 2008.
Jamon Hicks, Walton’s attorney, said Walton felt sure that a complaint against Fennell would be career suicide, so she just kept trying to deal with the situation the best she could.
Walton also said that Fennell frequently bragged about his political power within the department, that he was “politically dialed in” with then Sheriff Baca (whose driver he had been) and with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. She said Fennell talked about how he got back at people who crossed him, which she took as a warning.
According to Walton, matters came to a head after she repeatedly declined Fennell’s advances over time and, in November 2011, according to Walton, he saw to it that she was transferred 70-plus miles away from her home to the Pitchess Detention Center jail complex in Castaic, at a time that her father was dying of cancer, and she pleaded with Fennell to help get her closer to home. He gave me “Freeway therapy,” she said.
Fennell said that he had nothing at all to do with her transfer, that it was only when Walton pressed him to leave his wife to become a “department power couple” with her, and he refused, that she retaliated by filing the lawsuit.
Ferguson, Fennell’s attorney, said that the power that Walton claimed Fennell had to help or harm people’s careers was completely fictional, that the sheriff’s department is governed by the rules of civil service, that Fennell couldn’t have superseded those hard and fast rules even if he’d wanted to.
Instead, said Ferguson, Walton filed suit against Fennell for the cash. “She has expensive taste and does what she has to do to get the money.”
JURORS: THE TWO CAMPS
According to the three jurors who voted that Fennell had sexually harassed Walton, the nine opposing jurors who did not believe Walton had been sexually harassed by Fennell, were reportedly very influenced by the fact that Walton had gone to Fennell’s hotel room in the Bonaventure, and thought it indicated that she was looking for a sexual relationship and lying about the harassment.
The three who believed Walton’s account over Fennell’s said they instead saw a woman trying to juggle the need to placate her powerful boss while also discouraging his advances.
The three also described how the nine who voted that Walton had not been harassed were particularly swayed by the testimony of high ranking department members like Abner and Goldman and Paul Tanaka who testified for the defense.
The majority felt there could be no logical reason that such highly-placed department members would lie for Fennell, said the three, so concluded early on that it was Walton who must be lying instead.