State police Sgt. Sherry Bosley seemed to have it all. One of the few female sergeants on the force, she was a tenacious officer, a one-time "Trooper of the Year" in her division, a gambling expert for the agency.
But she says her career -- and the career of a male colleague -- started to crumble after she complained about sexual harassment within the agency.
Rumors of sexual liaisons shadowed her, she says. She encountered retaliation from the agency's highest levels. And at her lowest point, she considered committing suicide at the state police firing range.
Sergeant Bosley's case illustrates the pressures felt by state police officers who confront alleged harassment head-on. And it demonstrates just how emotionally damaging the search for relief can be.
Now 40, Ms. Bosley speaks in soft, measured tones about her 12-year tenure at the police agency. For years, the Bel Air resident says, she never complained about the behavior of some of her male colleagues and supervisors.
She says she didn't complain when a supervisor requested hugs and kisses rather than salutes.
Or when a trooper slammed his fist through a wall inches from her head when he heard she had been promoted to corporal.
Or when a male supervisor wanted to know how she would respond if she were raped, then grabbed her in a squad car.
"I thought I could prove myself," says Ms. Bosley, who wears her brown hair short and her neatly pressed blouses buttoned to the top. "I didn't want to alienate anyone, particularly other troopers. During my career, there were women who would speak out. Then you would become one of those women. I didn't want that to happen."
But that's exactly what happened, she says.
The trouble started in 1991, after 11 years on the force. She says a supervisor, Lt. Fred Davis, rekindled rumors that she was having an affair with one of her colleagues.
Settling a score
She says Lieutenant Davis -- a veteran of 30 years who recently won the Republican nomination for sheriff of Charles County -- was settling an old score.
In 1982, Sergeant Bosley and another female trooper were assigned to an undercover operation -- investigating claims that the lieutenant had ties to drug traffickers, according to a court document and three officers in the case.
They never substantiated the claims. No charges were filed.
But Sergeant Bosley and the other trooper later were assigned to work in the same division as Lieutenant Davis. By then, Ms. Bosley says, he knew all about their role in the undercover probe.
To retaliate, she says, Lieutenant Davis tried to destroy her credibility -- spreading sexual rumors about her and Trooper Don Newcomer, the godfather of her two children and a friend of her husband. Mr. Newcomer, who has since retired from the force, says he and Sergeant Bosley were partners for years and best friends. In 1991, she says, Lieutenant Davis and other supervisors started questioning her -- and officers she supervised -- about her fidelity.
Lieutenant Davis declined to comment. "We'll be able to tell our side of the story when it comes to court," he says, referring to a $2 million lawsuit Ms. Bosley has filed against the agency.
Frustrated, Sergeant Bosley turned to agency supervisors for help.
She asked Maj. John Cook to stop her superiors from spreading the rumors, she says. She also told the major that Lieutenant Davis kept a statue of a penis on his desk, which she considered offensive. She also told him that another trooper kept a framed photo of a naked woman striking an explicit pose on his desk.
When the rumors, the crude comments and the speculation about her personal life continued, she went to internal affairs, she says. She told Capt. John Howard, then the commander of the unit, that she wanted to file a complaint.
But he had some unsettling advice, she says. "He said it would be treated like a rape trial. I would have to be the one who was put on trial."
Captain Howard declined to talk about the case.
Sergeant Bosley later filed the complaint. "Then everything went downhill," she says.
She received obscene phone calls at home, she says. She was becoming an outcast and was growing increasingly despondent.
For help, she turned to Doug DeLeaver, a former state police lieutenant who was assigned to handle employee disputes.
"She was an excellent officer," Mr. DeLeaver says. "She writes well. She speaks well. She was always prim and proper."
But the day she visited him, Mr. DeLeaver says Sergeant Bosley was shaken.
"All she wanted was an apology," he says. "She didn't want any money. She wanted somebody to say, 'I'm sorry. It's not going to happen again.' "
Sergeant Bosley also asked to see Elmer H. Tippett, who ran the agency at the time. "When I went there, there were eight people in the room," she says. "I was shocked because I expected a private meeting. He said, 'If you want to meet with me, you'll have to do it with all these people.' "
Planning to pull the trigger
She walked out, she says.
"Being a trooper was everything to me, and I thought by working very hard, I would be accepted," she says. "All these people who were so important in my life were turning against me. I just couldn't accept it."
In April 1992, Sergeant Bosley was scheduled for firearms practice. She says she planned to take her life, placing a pistol against her head and pulling the trigger in front of her old state police friends.
But before heading to the range, she stopped to see her psychologist.
"She had been deeply depressed," recalls Dr. Stephen Curran, who had a contract to counsel state police workers. "She told me she was going to the firing range, and she was going to kill herself. She wanted someone to prevent it."
Sergeant Bosley spent the next week in the psychiatric ward at )) St. Joseph Hospital in Towson.
In December 1992, Dr. Curran says he met with the new superintendent, Col. Larry W. Tolliver. Among the questions he wanted answered: Why wasn't the agency paying attention to the Bosley case?
"It wasn't much of a discussion," Dr. Curran says. "He was hostile and threatening. He was upset that I was supporting an individual trooper, and not the Maryland State Police. He said, 'Why can't you be one of the guys, and why can't you tell this woman to get it together?' "
Colonel Tolliver declined to discuss the case.
After the meeting, Dr. Curran says two things became clear: State police supervisors no longer wanted his services, and the psychologist no longer wanted to work for the agency. He resigned May 1, 1993.
L Sgt. William Harden, 44, also tried to help Sergeant Bosley.
The two had been friends for years, joining the force together in 1980. He wasn't surprised to hear Sergeant Bosley was having problems -- he'd heard similar complaints from other female troopers.
"I worked with a number of women," Sergeant Harden says. "If you could take it from the guys, and you didn't complain, you were OK. But if you had any sense of dignity, or if you wanted to be a lady and still be a police officer, you were not one of the guys. You just didn't fit in. You were ostracized."
Sergeant Harden says that he heard the rumors about Sergeant Bosley.
In one incident, he says, Sergeant Bosley's name came up while some officers were talking in the lounge of the Holiday Inn near Jessup. He says Lieutenant Davis repeated the rumor about the affair, using a crude, anatomical reference to describe her. Major Cook, the highest-ranking officer there, never admonished the lieutenant, Sergeant Harden says.
Sergeant Harden told her about the incident.
"I thought he [Major Cook] was on my side," Ms. Bosley recalls. "I worked with him. He knew me. I thought he was behind me because he was giving me advice."
She says she confronted Major Cook.
Sergeant Harden says Major Cook then gave him a warning: "I better change my ways or I would be headed south," a reference to a transfer from the prestigious criminal intelligence division.
Major Cook declined to comment.
In January 1992, as rumors spread that Sergeant Harden was being transferred, he filed a complaint with the internal affairs unit and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Eventually -- after an abortive attempt to move him to Waldorf, a two-hour drive from his home -- he was transferred to Annapolis.
Sergeant Harden filed a $2 million lawsuit in federal court, claiming that the agency retaliated against him for siding with Sergeant Bosley, complaining to the agency and turning in his co-workers.
Sergeant Bosley took an extended sick leave, applied for a work-related disability pension and never returned. "The hardest part is realizing I can't go back," she says.
Last January, she sued the agency, claiming that it violated federal sexual harassment and discrimination laws. The agency denies the claims.
"We're confident once the evidence is described, and the case goes to trial, a favorable verdict will occur," says Assistant Attorney General Betty Sconion, who represents the police agency.
Paying the price
Ms. Bosley says she's still paying the price for complaining.
On Sept. 3, she reported receiving a death threat. On the front seat of her van, parked outside her home, she says she found a page from the Maryland State Police manual describing the agency's sexual harassment policy.
Pasted onto the page were letters clipped from a magazine. They read: "You Will Die."