A veteran Brentwood police officer has filed a lawsuit alleging that her supervisor sexually assaulted her at a work-related, out-of-state training conference in 2017, and then pressured her to lie during what she is claiming was a mishandled Brentwood Police Department investigation designed to cover up the alleged incidents.
The alleged victim, a 17-year member of the force whose identity will not be revealed per the policy of this newspaper, claims that now-retired Brentwood Police Lt. Sal DiMercurio forced her to engage in sex acts in his hotel room. The accuser alleges that the attack followed an assault the previous evening that she was able to deflect.
The suit alleges that DiMercurio persuaded the accuser to lie about the events during a Brentwood Police Department review, and that a fellow senior police department official asked her a series of “yes or no” questions designed to confirm DiMercurio’s account that “there had been no sexual intercourse and any contact was consensual.”
Now-retired Brentwood Police Captain Ben Tolero, conducted the review, and is mentioned in the suit as having closed the investigation without determination of any violations. While the accuser admitted she supported DiMercurio’s version of the events, the complaint asserts that she did so out of fear of retaliation.
The accuser, who has been on medical leave since February 2018 and unpaid leave since July 2018, served as a negotiator on the department’s Crisis Negotiation Team, which DiMercurio commanded.
DiMercurio, who retired Feb. 9, days after the suit was filed, had a previous history of workplace sexual harassment and misconduct, according to the suit.
The accuser is seeking unspecified damages.
“For 17 years, I was a police officer dedicated to protecting the safety of the citizens of Brentwood,” the accuser said in a statement provided by her attorney, Jayme Walker. “When I came forward about sexual harassment and assault by my supervisor, I was intimidated to keep quiet and my supervisor was not held accountable. I felt I had to file this lawsuit because I wanted to encourage other women in uniform who may be experiencing harassment by a man in power to come forward and report it.”
Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina, speaking on behalf of the city and the police department, said that the allegations have been taken extremely seriously, but in an emailed statement he declined to elaborate.
“This issue pertains to a confidential personnel matter, and therefore our ability to comment is very limited,” he said. “In order to make sure this matter is handled in the right way, with the appropriate seriousness and consideration, we are not going to litigate it in the press.”
Attempts to contact the attorney reportedly representing DiMercurio for comment on this story were unsuccessful.
The alleged incidents occurred over two nights in 2017 during a week-long California Association of Hostage Negotiators training in Reno, Nevada, attended by DiMercurio, the accuser and a Brentwood Police sergeant.
On one of the nights, according to the suit, the accuser texted DiMercurio that she was unable to sleep because she forgot her sleeping medication. DiMercurio allegedly responded by offering to bring cold and flu medicine that causes drowsiness to her hotel room. After he arrived the accuser received a phone call, and DiMercurio allegedly instructed her to come to his room when the phone call was over.
The accuser then went to DiMercurio’s room and found him in bed without a shirt, and later discovered he was naked, the suit alleges.
As she was standing near his bed, DiMercurio suddenly leaned forward, grabbed the victim’s wrist, and pulled her onto the bed, according to the suit.
The accuser immediately pulled away from him, saying “no,” and then returned to her room after being in his room less than a minute.
DiMercurio instructed the victim to erase text messages related to that evening, as he was concerned that they would be discovered by her husband, according to the suit.
The following night, after the three officers had dinner together during which DiMercurio provided the accuser with alcohol he had brought from home, he called her work cell phone and again told her to come to his room.
When she arrived, he opened the door, led her in and blocked the exit, according to the suit.
The suit alleges that DiMercurio then forced her onto the bed with him, pressuring her into oral and vaginal sex, while grabbing her arms so tightly they were bruised.
The exchange was interrupted by a phone call from the accuser’s husband via a video-calling service, causing DiMercurio to roll to the floor to hide, and ordered the victim out of the room partially clothed, the suit says.
“The victim never gave any express or implied consent to the sexual acts forced upon her by DiMercurio,” the suit says. “To the contrary, she feared for her safety and was doubly concerned that DiMercurio would destroy her career if she refused.”
The accuser claims in the suit that she complied with DiMercurio’s request to return to his room that night because he was her commanding officer and she wanted to discuss the first night’s events.
“As DiMercurio had been respectful during dinner, she had no reason to believe that he would again attempt to sexually assault her,” the suit says.
“She went in a second time to try to straighten this thing out and that is when he attacked her.” said J. Gary Gwilliam, an attorney with the accuser’s team.
The accuser didn’t seek criminal charges, because she felt civil action would lead to the best resolution of her claim, Gwilliam said, noting that district attorneys and police officers are “very reluctant to go after their own.”
“I don’t think she thought it was a realistic option to go after him,” Gwilliam said. “He certainly did commit a crime, but once the police officers are in that situation and they are denying it, she felt her best resolution to this claim was to get serious about a civil claim against him rather than a criminal claim. In other words, she did not feel a criminal complaint against him would be successful.”
The suit alleges that the Brentwood Police Department also mishandled the investigation of the incident after being alerted by the accuser’s husband, approximately two months after the alleged events.
The accuser’s now ex-husband, according to the complaint, reported to Brentwood police that he believed DiMercurio and his wife were having an affair after he noticed behavior changes in his wife and subsequent text messages, which appeared to indicate that DiMercurio and the accuser were in the same room during the trip, the suit says.
The accuser called DiMercurio the day after the text message discovery, telling him the text messages were found and of her plans to divulge the sexual assault to her husband, the suit says. DiMercurio directed her to remain quiet and deny sexual contact, the suit alleges.
The suit alleges Tolero and Police Chief Tom Hansen made a decision to open only a supervisory inquiry — “which eliminates the possibility of discipline other than verbal admonishment or counseling and is only appropriate where there has been a training gap or minor performance issue instead of misconduct” — instead of an internal affairs investigation.
DiMercurio later claimed to have accidentally dropped his cell phone in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, destroying additional evidence, the suit says.
Tolero closed the investigation without finding any violations about a month after the department was alerted, the suit says.
Gwilliam said DiMercurio was threatening the accuser throughout the entire investigation.
“He was saying, ‘Go along with my story, this is what I am going to say, I am going to say this and I am going to say that.’ She was feeling threatened by him and continued to feel threatened by him that entire time, and Captain Tolero and Chief Hansen were both playing into that. I think what is really important about this is they did not do an investigation. They didn’t tape anybody, they didn’t talk to anybody, and (Tolero) told her she could be promoted to a sergeant. All this was done in order to intimidate her and keep her from making a formal complaint of the assault.”
DiMercurio, who also allegedly grabbed at the accuser’s vagina through her clothes without consent during a meeting in his office about a month after the alleged incidents occurred, continued to pressure the accuser into saying that no sexual intercourse occurred, after the department’s investigation into the out-of-state events concluded, the suit says.
In one instance, DiMercurio and his wife persuaded the accuser to “remain quiet about the sexual assault” in a meeting with her at their house about a month after the department investigation concluded, the suit says.
“She (the accuser) never went to them, they came to her, they wanted to sit down and meet with her and see if they could talk her out of not proceeding with her claim,” Gwilliam said. “The wife was involved in it at the direction of her husband. It wasn’t like she came out on her own. She was trying to save his career.”
The accuser was also contacted by a sergeant supervised by DiMercurio about her status about 13 days after she went on medical leave, the suit says.
Approximately two weeks later, two officers, one supervised by DiMercurio, came to the accuser’s home to investigate an alleged 9-1-1 call that did not occur, the suit says.
About a month after that, and days after the victim filed her government claim, DiMercurio’s wife allegedly came to the accuser’s home, alleging that DiMercurio was suicidal.
She reported that incident to the police chief and city manager the same day, the suit says.
“He was putting a lot of pressure on her and she (DiMercurio’s wife) was too,” Gwilliam said.
The accuser has undergone psychological therapy, with experts advising her not to return to police work, Gwilliam said.
She will seek enough monetary damages to redirect her working career in a new field, cover any necessary training and or education expenses, and adequately cover her psychological damages, Gwilliam said.
“We want the City of Brentwood to pay for what she has lost,” he said.