Two women who accused an Iredell County Sheriff’s Office investigator of sexual harassment in 2012 will be paid a total of $475,000 after settling their claims in mediation.
Suzanne Wick and Lisa Mangiardi filed a civil action alleging ongoing harassment and stalking by Richard “Ben” Jenkins III, then a detective with the office’s Special Victims Unit, which handles domestic violence and sexual assault cases. According to court documents, both plaintiffs claim they went to Jenkins in search of protection from their abusive husbands but instead were met with lewd comments, continual sexual propositions and improper touching.
Records show Jenkins was eventually demoted and transferred to different units before being fired after this settlement was reached. Sheriff’s officials would not comment on the reason for his termination.
Also named in the suit were Sheriff Phillip Redmond — both individually and in his official capacity — and surety Ohio Casualty Insurance Company.
According to the complaint, a former lieutenant warned Redmond and Chief Deputy Rick Dowdle in 2006 that if Jenkins wasn’t sleeping with a domestic violence victim yet, he soon would be. That same year, according to reports, Jenkins’ wife found him on the couch in his underwear with a domestic violence victim after Jenkins’ and the woman had had sex. The incident was reported to Jenkins’ superiors.
“All the warning signs were there that Sheriff Phillip Redmond had hired a predator for what was arguably the most sensitive position in the ICSO,” the complaint reads.
In January 2009, according to court records, Wick sought police intervention after enduring her husband’s abuse. During this time, she said, he drank from a liquor stash in the closet while beating Wick and pointing a gun to her head, threatening to kill her, their children and himself. He fired the pistol inside the home and told her she’d better figure out what to tell police when they got there.
At the sheriff’s office, Wick was introduced to Jenkins. Shortly afterward, according to court documents, he began calling her on his county-issued phone, commenting on her attractiveness and making sexual propositions.
The two would “conveniently” bump into each other around town, according to records, and Jenkins would stake out Wick’s home and voice his disapproval of her visitors.
When his advances were rebuffed, court documents say, he threatened to drop all charges against her husband and have him released—a thought that traumatized Wick—in an effort to intimidate her and force her into a sexual relationship with him.
After Wick complained to Jenkins’ bosses, an in-house investigation—aided by Jenkins’ own admission—concluded that he had sexually harassed Wick. She asked that Jenkins be terminated from his position. Instead, he was demoted to jailor and later assigned to the patrol division where he routinely encountered other domestic violence victims.
Wick was joined in the lawsuit by Mangiardi, who said her harassment began in 2008 after she filed for a temporary restraining order against her husband. Jenkins and Mangiardi were acquainted through her work as a courthouse mediator, records state. The alleged harassment began after she sought help from the SVU.
The lawsuit accuses Redmond of knowing about the abuse and condoning it by failing to properly supervise Jenkins and failing to provide adequate sexual harassment training.
Plaintiff’s attorney Josh Van Kampen of Van Kampen Law in Charlotte said this is a simple case of a predator using his position of power to prey on the vulnerable.
“You don’t want to believe that a DVU detective could view that as a sexual opportunity, but that was the reality in this case,” he said.
Attorneys for the defendants could not immediately be reached for comment. A message left for Maj. Marty Byers, Jenkins’ last supervisor, was not immediately returned.
Type of claim: Sexual Harassment
Case name: Suzanne Wick and Lisa Mangiardi v. Phillip H. Redmond, Ohio Casualty Insurance Company and Richard Benjamin Jenkins III
Case number: 5:2012-CV-00052
Court: U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina
Settlement amount: $375,000 for Wick and $100,000 for Mangiardi
Plaintiff’s attorneys: Josh Van Kampen and Sean Herrmann of Van Kampen Law in Charlotte and Carlos Mahoney of Glenn, Mills, Fisher & Mahoney in Durham
Defendant’s attorneys: Patrick Flanagan of Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog in Charlotte and Sonny Haynes of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Winston-Salem
Expert witnesses: Police standards expert Melvin Tucker of Raleigh and Dr. Faye Sultan of Charlotte