[Editor's note: This story contains detailed allegations couched in sexually explicit language.]
Attorneys for both the Asheville Police Department and Sgt. Eric Lauffer have filed defenses in the sexual harassment suit brought by former APD Officer Cherie Byrd. While admitting that Lauffer sent Byrd explicit text messages, both defenses (which often use identical wording) deny any wrongdoing in the case.
The defenses’ rebuttal to two of her allegations states: “Admitted: that Lauffer forwarded texts with the described content to members of the [Drug Suppression Unit, where Byrd worked], including the Plaintiff. The remaining allegations [contained in Byrd’s assertions about the texts] are denied.”
According to Byrd’s suit, that “described content” included the following: “By way of example, and not of limitation, one text featured a cartoon character humping the floor with the caption ‘I’d hit it like this.’ Lauffer added the following text to the message: ‘You have just been phone fucked! P.S. you cannot fuck me back no matter how bad you may wanna.’ Other texts contained messages such as ‘I must licky you’ and ‘I am just a man. Never satisfied always wanting more.’ He also texted her a picture of the back side of a naked man and implied in another message that she was a ‘ho.’
“Lauffer also sent text messages to Ms. Byrd derogative of the African-American race and highly offensive to Ms. Byrd,” her suit continues. “For example, in November 2008, he said that ‘the election is making me sick’ because he had the ‘Obama flu’ and that ‘due to recent events: grape soda, red kool-aid, fried chicken, malt liquor, menthol cigarettes and gold teeth will be tax exempt.’”
Lauffer, a 23-year APD veteran, was demoted June 2 to the rank of senior police officer, according to city personnel records. His pay was reduced by $5,896 a year, to $53,068. After a lengthy administrative leave, Byrd formally left the APD on April 22.
No ‘tangible employment action’
But while both defenses concede that these messages were sent, they nonetheless contend that the charges should be dismissed. The APD alleges that Byrd “did not suffer a ‘tangible employment action,’ the City and APD exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any alleged harassing conduct and the Plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities.”
Both attorneys deny that Lauffer repeatedly called Byrd after hours, instead asserting that as with other members of the drug unit, these were simply social calls.
And while the defenses admit that Lauffer’s supervisor, Lt. Chris Young, took no action after the text messages were brought to his attention, they deny that police Chief Bill Hogan and other city officials also failed to take action when Byrd brought her concerns to them. Instead, the defenses maintain, Byrd requested that no action be taken.
In addition, the defenses assert that the APD’s internal affairs wing did investigate the matter, “that some of the charges were sustained and some were not,” and that the full details of that investigation could not be disclosed because it was a personnel matter.
The defenses also deny that the APD treated female officers differently, refused to pay for mental health care for Byrd after she was fired upon in the line of duty, and kept her under Lauffer’s supervision even after she’d lodged her complaints.
Byrd is suing both parties for damages, asserting that working under Lauffer’s supervision made her job impossible and eventually led to an inability to continue employment with the APD and endangered her future career in law enforcement. The defenses call for all charges to be dismissed, and Byrd to pay all the court costs.
Citing restrictions in the state's personnel laws and the ongoing court case, city officials declined to comment on either the text messages or Byrd's allegations.
"What's been reported on is what's out there," Public Information Officer Dawa Hitch told Xpress. "That's where we're at. This is a legal matter, so obviously we can't really say much."
Apart from Lauffer’s demotion, there's no indication in the records released of any other disciplinary action taken against any of Byrd's supervisors.
David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.