Pittsfield police officer files complaint against department alleging a pattern of sexism
PITTSFIELD >> A 16-year veteran of the city's police force is alleging she has been discriminated against and harassed within the department since at least 2005.
In a 12-page Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint obtained by The Eagle, Pittsfield Police Officer Jennifer Brueckmann, 51, alleges she was denied job opportunities and was subjected to sexist remarks and harassment at the hands of her supervisors.
In one case, Brueckmann alleges she was passed over as a K-9 officer in favor of a male officer who was allergic to dogs.
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn said via email Friday that Pittsfield City Attorney Richard Dohoney would respond on behalf of the city.
A message left for Dohoney at his office Friday was not returned.
The allegations of harassment include implied threats, intentional damage to Brueckmann's work and personal vehicles, disparaging comments about her appearance and a comment about how officers used to have sex with prostitutes in response to the discovery of a used condom in her cruiser.
The complaint also alleges questionable behavior by other members of the department, which went without investigation and discipline despite being reported to senior staff.
The complaint, filed by Brueckmann's attorney, Timothy Burke of Needham, states she was "subjected to a pattern and practice of sexual harassment and gender discrimination."
"(Brueckmann's) superiors were either the ones engaging in this discriminatory and retaliatory treatment, or they knew of the disparate treatment and took no actions to stop it."
The complaint alleges many instances of sexist language, attitudes and behavior over the last 11 years, which received little or no attention when reported.
• During a 2005 criminal justice seminar at Anna Maria College, a Pittsfield Police sergeant said to several people, "I don't believe there is any place in police work for a woman."
The statement was dismissed as hearsay by the department, which declined to investigate.
• In August 2010, a male officer used his cruiser radio for 30 minutes to have "phone sex" with his girlfriend, according to the complaint.
"No significant punishment," came as a result of Brueckmann's reporting of that incident.
• In 2010, Brueckmann was allegedly told by a lieutenant that, "You have to wonder if any woman reporting rape is telling the truth."
The department declined to investigate those comments, according to the complaint.
• The complaint alleges that the department has declined to provide equitable accommodations for its female officers by keeping their locker room in what is described as a 50-square-foot "broom closet" containing asbestos and lead.
That contrasts with a 1,200-square-foot locker area for the male officers.
There are approximately seven female officers, including Brueckmann, and 95 male officers, according to the complaint.
• In 2011, Brueckmann filed a formal charge with MCAD, alleging discrimination and disparate treatment. She claims her complaints led to her being labeled a "troublemaker" within the department.
• In July 2011, Brueckmann said she called for backup during a bar fight involving herself and several patrons.
She said a lieutenant responded, but drove past without stopping or assisting. And she said the department took no investigatory nor disciplinary action in that matter.
• In August 2011, the department refused to pursue a potential violation of a restraining order Brueckmann had against her ex-husband, claiming the alleged violation wasn't deliberate.
Brueckmann believes part of the reason behind the department's refusal to investigate the violation is due to a familial relationship between her ex-husband and a senior member of the Department.
• Brueckmann said she found a used condom left behind on the driver's seat of her cruiser. When she brought that complaint forward, she was allegedly told by a captain, that, "I remember when some of our retired officers would bang the whores from North Street on the hood of their cruisers."
She was also told the condom was probably from a prisoner and declined to investigate. Prisoners do not ride in the front seat of police cruisers, according to the complaint.
• In 2012 an email was sent to officers informing them they needed to be clean-shaven while on duty. The captain who sent that email allegedly told Brueckmann directly that she should consider using hair removal treatments.
• In spring of 2015, a captain allegedly contacted the family of an 88-year-old woman who was arrested after Brueckmann and her partner were sent to the wrong address by a dispatcher.
During the investigation into that arrest, a captain allegedly contacted the woman and her family and told them Brueckmann and her partner were, "known problems," for the department and told "multiple" members of the department that she was "toxic."
Some comments from department supervisors about Brueckmann and her partner made via internal emails became public in April 2016.
• In September 2015, Brueckmann raised doubts that a suspect managed to flee with a large television for 2 miles on foot. She was allegedly told by a sergeant that, "The reason you think the TV is heavy is because you're a woman. The subject is a man and he is stronger than you."
Those remarks were reported, according to the complaint, but no action was taken.
• Brueckmann raised concerns regarding an Oct. 22, 2015, incident in which a man — who allegedly has personal ties to both the Pittsfield Police and the Berkshire County Sheriff's departments — pointed an assault rifle at another man's face.
Brueckmann said the man should be placed under arrest and required to surrender all of his firearms. A sergeant allegedly refused to arrest the man and only confiscated the one weapon used in the alleged assault.
Brueckmann reported the incident and refused to be listed as one of the officers on scene.
• On July 17, 2016, Brueckmann and another officer were looking at an image of an assault rifle on a computer screen when a captain approached them and allegedly said, "I wouldn't go on a shooting spree like some people if I had an assault rifle, I would only shoot a select few. The list is small, but I'd take care of it."
Brueckmann perceived the remark as a threat, according to the complaint.
•On July 22, 2016 Brueckmann brought her personal vehicle to an auto body shop and was told that bolts from the vehicle's front end had been removed.
The complaint alleges more harassment including vandalism to her cruiser; nails being put into its tires, cigarettes and soiled rubber gloves being left inside of it and being denied time off only to be told to take the time off when she reported for duty.
K-9 Officer Duty
According to the complaint, Brueckmann was appointed to be one of the department's K-9 officers in 2005 and was the first female officer in that role.
She was appointed by then-Chief Anthony Riello, who told her, "They don't want you as K-9 handler. Show them you can do this, because they all want you to fail."
In 2010, Brueckmann said she was demoted and removed from the K-9 unit because she was not able to work night shifts, involved in a custody dispute, wouldn't be able to devote the necessary time to the job and had swapped shifts too many times.
The complaint alleges a male K-9 officer had been away for six to seven months for training, without incurring a similar penalty.
As a result of losing the K-9 job, the police dog, Ciro, which she had trained and raised for five years, was removed from her home, according to the complaint.
The demotion also reduced her salary by about 23 percent.
Ciro was re-assigned to a younger male officer with no training or experience, according to the complaint.
Shift-swapping still occurs between male K-9 officers without the same disciplinary action being taken, the complaint alleges.
While Brueckmann served as a K-9 officer, she was routinely denied training during the summer months, allegedly due to higher volume of police calls during that time.
She later learned that male K-9 officers were allowed to take training any time of year, regardless of call volume.
In June 2010 Brueckmann was re-applying for a K-9 officer position and when she asked if she should wait for a routine uniform fitting in the event she got the job, she was allegedly told by a supervisor that he was told she "won't be needing the K-9 uniform."
Brueckmann had yet to formally apply for the job, at that time.
Another opening on the K-9 unit was available in January 2013, the complaint states.
A total of five applicants, three males and two females, including Brueckmann were vying for the post.
One of the male candidates was selected for the job, but had a child and would not be able to work night shifts.
That requirement was changed to accommodate the officer, who had to leave the K-9 section due to being allergic to his dog, the complaint states.
Another male officer was selected to replace the outgoing officer, but that officer left in January, 2013. The vacancy wasn't filled and that officer was allowed to keep the dog he trained.
Brueckmann is at least the fourth Pittsfield Police Officer currently involved in some type of complaint against the department and the city.
Officers Mark Lenihan and Christopher Kennedy are plaintiffs in separate federal lawsuits alleging they were retaliated against by members of the department for reporting alleged improprieties in its hiring practices.
Former officer Dale Eason, who was fired by the department earlier this year amid claims of falsifying police reports and conduct unbecoming an officer, has filed an appeal of that decision.
Those cases remain open.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.