Zachary officials work to settle two sexual harassment suits

Two workers claim assistant chief made advances

Mayor David Amrhein is in negotiations to settle two federal lawsuits against the city that accused Zachary Assistant Police Chief Darryl Lawrence of sexually harassing two city 911 operators in 2011.

One of the federal lawsuits, filed by former city employee Tracey McKneely in 2012, was dismissed by U.S. Middle District Judge Shelly Dick in August.

McKneely, who accused Lawrence of requesting sex with her on numerous occasions, has appealed Dick’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

City employee Melody Hills, who is on unpaid leave from work, accused Lawrence in her 2013 lawsuit of kissing her at work as well as making other sexual advances, according to court documents.

Both McKneely and Hills are represented by Baton Rouge attorney Jill Craft.

McKneely declined comment Wednesday and referred questions to Craft while Hills couldn’t be reached for comment. Craft did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment.

The Zachary City Council voted Tuesday night to authorize Amrhein to negotiate a settlement for both cases and Zachary City Attorney John Hopewell said Wednesday that official settlements could be reached and signed in the next few days.

Both Amrhein and Lawrence, a more than 20-year veteran of the Zachary Police Department, declined to comment on the cases Wednesday.

Hopewell said the city felt the allegations by the two women were misplaced.

When asked why the city would settle with McKneely, whose case had been dismissed, Hopewell said it would take time and money to fight an appeal.

“It was better in our opinion to just move on,” Hopewell said.

Hopewell said the settlements are not “done deals” but there are agreements in principle.

Hopewell said details of the settlement negotiations are confidential at this point.

Zachary Police Chief David McDavid said Lawrence has never been internally disciplined as a result of the lawsuits.

“There was never any evidence that I could bring to the Civil Service Board that showed he did anything,” McDavid said.

When McKneely and Hills first made the complaints to the department, the city asked the state Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent investigation.

According to court documents, a comprehensive investigative report dated Nov. 22, 2011, was turned in by the Attorney General’s Office.

Hopewell said the Attorney General’s Office had no recommendations as a result of the investigation.

“They (Attorney General’s Office) could not determine whether it happened or not,” Hopewell said.

McDavid said Lawrence was placed on paid leave during the Attorney General’s investigation.