NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, July 11, 2013,
Sue Eberle, 37, is at the center of the Lakeland Police Department sex scandal. She’s currently on paid leave with the department.
Eberle, a civilian crime analyst, says her trysts happened over seven years — on and off the clock — as an employee of the Lakeland Police Department. While she had consensual sex with some officers as well as a fire department employee, there were instances the come-ons felt coerced, she said.
“They told me, ‘No, you gotta do that. It’s either this, or you don’t have your job,’” the married mother of two said in the interview with the Polk County State Attorney’s Office.
In one instance, Eberle said, Capt. John Thomason grabbed her cell phone and went into a bathroom to take a picture of his genitals.
The Lakeland Police Department is embroiled in a sex scandal following an investigation last month that found nearly a dozen police officers had engaged in sex acts with a civilian female worker.
“When he came back he was kind of laughing it off,” she said.
Thomason, 55, had been on administrative leave since last month, and the department planned to fire him. Instead, he retired Tuesday.
“I recognize that each of us are only human and it is that human quality that makes each of you special and it is also that quality that can fail,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
She said she also had sex at the Without Walls International Church with officer Steve Sherman, who resigned earlier this year. A sergeant had reported the couple’s suspicious activity, which prompted the nearly three-month investigation.
“I think it had a couch in there and it had a chair, and that was the room we had sex at,” Eberle said about using the church for her horndog hookups.
Eberle’s accounts of the liaisons were largely corroborated by her sexual partners and others within the police department, and published in a graphic, 59-page report written in an incredulous tone by Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill.
It said the department’s problems investigating crimes might be caused by some high-ranking officers being more interested in a rendezvous with Eberle than doing their jobs.
“The investigation revealed an extraordinary amount of sexual conduct that was committed both on-duty and off-duty,” Hill wrote in the report dated June 25. “We find the conduct of a number of sworn officers, including some officers of rank, to be at best a waste of taxpayer dollars. At worst their actions indicate a moral bankruptcy that exists amongst some individuals within the ranks at the Lakeland Police Department.”
Eberle, who was placed on paid leave amid the scandal, has retained an attorney.
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“She was a target. She was weak. And they knew that they could take advantage of that, so they preyed upon her. They preyed upon her, and that’s what’s so sick about it,” Eberle’s attorney, David Linesch, said during a recent news conference.
Eberle is on paid administrative leave. Three city employees have resigned, and others — such as the former assistant chief of the department — have retired. Five other officers have been placed on either administrative leave or modified duty.
The scandal has stunned folks in Lakeland, a city of almost 100,000 people halfway between Tampa and Orlando.
“It’s been devastating for the community,” said Ellen Simms, who owns a framing shop in the city’s historic downtown. “The actions of a few are tarnishing the reputation of a good department. It’s heartbreaking.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating, while Hill’s office spent three months interviewing participants and witnesses. In his report addressed to Lakeland Police Chief Lisa Womack, Hill also drew parallels between the sex scandal and other “shortcomings” within the department, including recent problems with traffic stops, searches and investigations that have been detailed in The Ledger, Lakeland’s newspaper.
“Had these members of your department been more focused on the important responsibilities of law enforcement, rather than pursuing sexual encounters with a civilian analyst, LPD might not be in the condition it is today,” Hill wrote.
Womack wouldn’t comment on the report or the scandal — a Lakeland Police spokeswoman said all comments are being made from City Hall.
Eberle, through her attorney and in the state attorney’s report, said she was unable to fend off the sexual advances because she has been a victim of sexual assault in the past. Initially, she didn’t want to speak with investigators — she balked at turning over her phone with text messages and photos, saying that it would hurt the officers’ families — but later decided to cooperate because she felt victimized and abandoned by the department.
“For some reason, some people have protection,” Eberle told investigators. “But other people, they don’t protect. They just go after you like you’re in the lion’s den.”
Eberle also confided in a female officer friend, who initially doubted the stories until Eberle showed her some of the text messages and photos she had received from other officers. The friend told Hill that she thought Eberle’s desire to please, inability to say no and sexual promiscuity made her a target.
While seven officers admitted to having sexual contact with Eberle, three other sergeants denied her claims and refused to take polygraph tests; Hill said he questioned the credibility of those sergeants.
The report also said that other employees knew about the encounters and didn’t report it to higher-ups.
The state attorney said he couldn’t prosecute the cases because of a lack of physical evidence and because so much time has passed since some of the sexual encounters. However, Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields said the officers and employees involved are under an internal investigation and will be “disciplined to the fullest extent” if found to have acted inappropriately.
With News Wire Services