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Several of the claimants at a morning press conference announcing the notice of claim.EXPAND
Several of the claimants at a morning press conference announcing the notice of claim.
Hannah Critchfield

Mesa Police Officers Say City Failed to Protect Against Sexual Harassment

Amanda Cook was new to the Mesa Police Department — so new that the department had not yet issued her a business phone. It was May of last year, and Patrol Officer Cook was following up on a criminal case that several SWAT officers were working on. She had to use her personal phone to contact their supervisor, Sergeant Jeffrey Neese, who had trained her just two years prior.

Thirty minutes later, she received a text from Neese, letting her know he was texting from his personal number. “Sounds good no worries. Have a good night,” Cook said in response.

Then Neese replied, “You’re the best. Thx for the hug the other day too. I loved it!!”

Cook felt a flood of discomfort at the text. Still on duty and not sure what to say, she replied, “anytime,” hoping to end the conversation.

“Have me something more to think about in private moments,” Neese responded, a winking emoji capping off the message.

“It took him only 30 minutes, after I contacted him referencing a police matter, to sexually harass me,” Cook said on Thursday. “I was appalled and I was disgusted, but like most victims in this situation, I had my career to think about.”

Fearing retaliation, she kept quiet. The texts continued for several days, with Neese repeatedly describing masturbation and occasionally employing emojis as visuals of his sexual behavior.

It wasn’t until a year later, when she overheard that Neese faced sexual harassment complaints from five other female officers — some of them her close friends — that she decided to come forward.

Though the City of Mesa ultimately found Neese had committed sexual misconduct toward six officers on the police force, the city of Mesa simply opted to demote him to a patrol officer — where he continues to interact with new officers and civilians.

On Thursday, seven of Neese’s survivors — six female police officers and one civilian — filed a notice of claim with the city of Mesa for its handling of the case.

The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, chronicles a repeated pattern of sexual harassment over several years — including unwarranted graphic texts and Facebook messages, a pornographic drawing of three female officers, and fetishizing LGBTQ officers’ private relationships — implicating both Neese and the city that failed to stop him.

Several of the women officers involved met at their attorney's office on Thursday to brief members of the news media on the claim. They're asking for $150,000 in damages each, for a total of $1,050,000.

But the officers say this isn’t about money — it’s about ensuring public safety and the integrity of the Mesa police department.

Investigation

The claim goes into extensive detail about the allegations, as follows, and provides documentation of electronic messages:

The investigation into Neese’s behavior began in July 2018, when Officer Ashley Elliff took a trip to the beach. She and her husband were on vacation in California with two other officers, Christine Rope and Elisa Gibbs. At lunch on July 28, Gibbs mentioned she had been receiving disturbing text messages from Neese. Rope said she had as well.

Elliff was stunned. Up until that moment, Elliff had not told anyone that, about a year prior, she had received a string of texts from Neese after responding together to a callout in August 2017, in which he implied he had masturbated while thinking about her.

“Many people cross my mind when I’m entertaining,” Neese wrote in the messages. “Haha. I’m a sick man I guess. Sorry if I offend.”

A cropped version of the photo Sergeant Neese drew of three subordinate officers.EXPAND
A cropped version of the photo Sergeant Neese drew of three subordinate officers.
DKL Law, PLLC

When the three patrol officers returned home to the Mesa Police Department, they approached two other female officers. Both confirmed they, too, were victims of Neese’s harassment.

“It was clear to us that his behavior went unchecked for years,” Elliff said at the news conference. “This was not a one-time incident.”

The five women reported Neese’s behavior to the City of Mesa Human Resources Department. On October 30, 2018, the city issued its first determination of findings, sustaining four allegations of misconduct by Neese. He was removed from the SWAT squad and ordered to take 50 hours of unpaid leave. But he remained a sergeant.

Neese had claimed the text messages were fake. An investigator sent Cook’s phone to a forensics expert for analysis. After the allegations were sustained, the expert found that the texts had come from Neese’s phone.

The city ultimately opted to combine the evidence and determine a new punishment for Neese. He was demoted to patrol officer. In that position, an officer would typically interact with civilians and other officers, including new recruits, on a daily basis.

The women officers allege that the city of Mesa has failed to protect them and the general public by allowing Neese back on the streets of Mesa. They noted they don’t think sexual harassment is a systemic problem within the Mesa Police Department; rather, the handling of Neese’s case signals the city’s inability to apply proper consequences when harassment does arise.

Harassment

Neese’s sexual harassment complaints date back to at least 2014, the notice of claim alleges. Neese seems to have admitted frequently that he had crossed a line, but then continued his behavior, according to the claim.

In fall 2015, Neese drew a naked picture of officers Rope, Gibbs, and Elsie Keim, then sent it to the three officers.

He would regularly tell Gibbs that he was pleasuring himself when thinking about her and her wife making out, calling the pair “SMOKIN HOT,” in a text.

Brandon Hamilton, another city of Mesa police officer, signed on as a claimant after learning of the harassment by Neese his co-workers had experienced.

Neese had messaged Hamilton's wife on Facebook on April 4, 2019, about how attractive she looked in her new profile picture. When Hamilton tried to address it, Neese denied sending the message, claiming his Facebook had been hacked.

“Putting Officer Neese in the same position I am as a patrol officer — we’re exposed to literally hundreds of people every single 40-hour shift that we work,” said Hamilton. “And for the city to allow him to be in a position where he's most able to continue his predatory acts is sickening.”

All of the officers in the notice were trained by Neese, who held a supervisory role in the Mesa Police Department. At Thursday's news conference, many cited this as a reason they did not immediately come forward. The women alleged at the news conference that there were several other victims who had declined to be named in the claim out of fear of damage to their careers.

“At this point, after the punishment is given, I don’t know that the city can give another punishment. But the city can have the option of where they put him,” said David Lunn, the attorney representing the women. “Put him in the evidence rooms, put him behind a desk. Put him somewhere where he's not going to come in contact with these officers, and not come in contact with the public.”

Steven Wright, a Mesa spokesperson, said the city does not comment on pending or potential litigation as a matter of policy.

Executive Commander Ed Wessing said that the Mesa Police Department operates under the same policy.

The city of Mesa has 60 days to respond to the notice of claim from the officers. If it does not respond, the claimants have a year from the date they found out about Neese's demotion to file a lawsuit. 

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