A former Taneytown police officer has filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that he was fired after he reported seeing the former police chief sexually harass a female employee.
Ralph S. Williams, a former patrolman first class in the Taneytown Police Department, filed the lawsuit in Carroll County Circuit Court on Aug. 29, claiming he witnessed then-Chief Jason Etzler “subjecting a female administrative assistant to sexual harassment, including grabbing her butt, touching her legs, and pulling her hair” in September 2022.
Maj. Robert Mitchell, deputy chief of the Taneytown Police Department, has been overseeing the department since Etzler was placed on administrative leave on Oct. 24. Etzler resigned on Nov. 2.
City officials have refused to give a reason for Etzler’s leave or resignation.
Williams, 37, of Essex, worked for the department from August 2018 until he was dismissed on Feb. 2. He said in an interview Friday that Mitchell was one of the superior officers to whom he reported Etzler’s actions last September. Williams said he received an email from Mitchell on Feb. 2 telling him he was fired.
“They were trying to get me fired,” Williams said. “On February 2nd Mitchell told me to check my email, and there it was.”
Williams said he believes his firing is a direct result of his whistle-blowing about the police chief.
City Manager Jim Wieprecht and Mayor Christopher Miller said Friday that they could not comment on the lawsuit since it is pending litigation. Miller was elected in May and since then has been leading the effort to find a new permanent police chief.
An attorney has not been assigned to represent the city, according to Wieprecht.
According to the lawsuit, Williams said he witnessed Etzler subjecting a female administrative assistant to acts of sexual harassment on Sept. 16, 2022, and after he reported the incident to his superior officer, nothing was done. On Sept. 23, 2022, Williams told his supervisors that he was going to report Etzler’s actions to City Hall if nothing was done. On Oct. 2, he provided a verbal report of what he witnessed, and then a written statement on Oct. 7 to City Hall, according to the lawsuit. The suit does not say to whom he provided the information.
On Nov. 3, the city issued a pre-termination letter to Williams and placed him on administrative leave; a pre-termination hearing was set for Nov. 9.
According to the lawsuit, the city alleged it was firing Williams for repeatedly reporting to work late, excessive sick callouts, failure to return a take-home vehicle for radar certification, and failure to cooperate with the sexual harassment investigation of Etzler. But at the Nov. 9 hearing the city did not offer proof for the allegations against Williams and withdrew his termination. Williams was ordered to remain on administrative leave with pay, pending resolution of his employment status.
Williams said he has been dealing with back pain issues since suffering an injury during a police training exercise in 2021 and had requested “light duty” work when he returned from administrative leave.
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On Dec. 21, the city informed him there was no light duty work available, the lawsuit states, and that he would need to use personal or sick leave. He was due back at work on Feb. 1.
At the time, Williams said he was advised to resign, or he would be fired. Williams continued getting physical therapy for his back pain, and said he notified the city that his doctor would not release him to return to work on Feb. 1.
On Feb. 2, Williams received the email from Mitchell stating that he was fired.
In the lawsuit, Williams is asking for compensatory damages of $300,000, back pay, front pay — compensation he would have received had he not been terminated — and attorney fees and costs. His attorney is George A. Rose of the Rose Law Firm in Randallstown.
Since his dismissal, Williams said he has not been able to find work in law enforcement.
“Nobody wants to hire a fired police officer,” he said.