Police chief made a comment about officer’s nipple. Mayor orders sex harassment class

Police Chief Scott Tyler gives a press conference at the Palmetto Police Department in this file photo.
Police Chief Scott Tyler gives a press conference at the Palmetto Police Department in this file photo. ttompkins@bradenton.com

Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler and his department have been ordered to undergo sexual harassment and other sensitivity training following an investigation into complaints about inappropriate comments made by officers, including one the chief made about a female officer’s nipple.

The investigation started after Detective. Chris Cavazos said she offended when she says Tyler made a comment to one or two male officers about about a female reserve officer’s “puffy nipples” being visible through her shirt. Cavazos initially made the complaint during an interview while she was under investigation for allegedly being the aggressor in a domestic violence incident involving her husband.

Cavazos’ complaints were later discussed with the city’s human resources department. Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant later asked the the city’s labor attorney, Anne Chapman with the Blalock Walters firm, to investigate.

Tyler recounted the nipple comment differently, according to a report from the law firm.

When the reserve officer, who is no longer with the department, came into the station, Tyler said, he responded to other officers’ comments about how she was dressed by saying, “It’s not like you can see her breast or nipple.” While he denied ever making any comment about “puffy nipples,” he agreed that the off-the-cuff comment was a poor choice of words, according to the report.

“It was taken out of context,” Tyler told the Bradenton Herald on Tuesday. “However, I apologized to her for offending her.”

The comment was meant to address the issue of whether the reserve officer was dressed appropriately for work, he added. He acknowledged there are several ways he could have better phrased his comment.

According to the investigation, neither Cavazos nor Tyler were sure about when the comment was made. Cavazos told the city’s attorney she believed the comment was made sometime in early 2017, but Tyler said he thought it had occurred in the fall of 2016.

The investigation concluded that Palmetto police officers, including Tyler, should receive sexual harassment or other types of sensitivity training and that all employees be reminded of anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, according to the four-page memo sent to the mayor late Tuesday.

Bryant told the Bradenton Herald that she was following the recommendations and that changes were already underway. She said she was glad the circumstances of the investigation had finally come to light.

Bryant has given Tyler a month to get the new training implemented.

Both the mayor and the police chief believe there was a connection between the latest complaints and the sex scandal that ended the career of former Capt. Stephen Greer in 2017. They are both hopeful and eager about moving forward, and for the department to learn from it all.

Complaint against fellow detective

Complaints about inappropriate comments also dealt with another detective in the Palmetto Police Department, according to the law firm’s report.

During her conversation with human resources staff, Cavazos said she was offended by inappropriate jokes the detective made during weekly meetings of the department’s Criminal Investigation Division.

The detective’s comments were found to be inappropriate by Tyler, who said he could see how someone would feel uncomfortable as a result, according to the memo. Tyler told the Bradenton Herald on Tuesday that he and the detective’s supervisor had spoken to the detective privately multiple times in the past and told him to stop telling the jokes.

Tyler and a prosecutor who regularly attends the CID meetings both said no one had ever complained about the jokes during the meetings. The prosecutor said she was not offended and asserted that jokes are typically made within law enforcement agencies when cases are being discussed.

“Clearly the message has now been received loud and clear,” Tyler said. “Moving forward, if it continues he will face progressive discipline.”

Part of the training moving forward will also be to ensure all supervisors know it is their responsibility to correct such behavior, and that they do not have to wait for someone to be offended to do so.

“We want to do what’s necessary to move past this,” Tyler said.

From the onset of the investigation when the concerns were made, Cavazos also expressed concerns she would be retaliated against for lodging complaints against the chief or others in the department.

Tyler has since assured and the city’s attorney that retaliation would not be tolerated.

A new law that took effect in August makes companies, not individuals, liable for misconduct alleged in lawsuits. “You can sue the company but you can’t sue the harasser.”