PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — A detective sergeant with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD), who has been with the department for about 15 years, is suing over what she claims was sexism on the part of the department’s leadership.
Detective Sergeant Jessica Whitehead filed the lawsuit in late March, about three years after she started having problems with Lt. Kevin Roberts, one of her male leaders, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that after Whitehead lost her 17-year-old stepdaughter to suicide in late 2018, she began seeking counseling and requested accommodation due to how difficult it was for her to work on certain cases, especially those involving the death of a child. Whitehead had previously worked on a variety of cases, including homicides.
However, the lawsuit said Roberts soon told Whitehead that she would be transferred to the Special Assault Unit (SAU), which handles cases like child deaths, molestations, abuse and other cases involving children as victims.
The lawsuit claims that Whitehead then informed Roberts about her accommodation request, offering to give up a promotion to avoid being placed on the SAU.
The lawsuit claims Roberts did not want to accommodate Whitehead’s request, and PCSD failed to take steps to accommodate Whitehead.
In April 2019, Roberts told the SAU officers that Whitehead would soon be assigned as the SAU’s supervising officer, the lawsuit says, adding that he did not talk to Whitehead before making the announcement.
The SAU’s then-leader, who is also a woman, agreed to stay in the unit after recognizing the impact the placement would have on Whitehead.
However, the lawsuit says Roberts eventually assigned a male detective sergeant to lead the SAU, saying he “did not want two female officers to lead SAU back-to-back.”
Roberts then tried to assign Whitehead a female mentor, but that woman called it “unusual” and refused the position.
The lawsuit claims that the same day Roberts informed SAU of Whitehead's pending promotion, a male officer overheard Undersheriff Brent Bomkamp call females at the PCSD a derogatory word to another male leader in the department.
The lawsuit also says the PCSD intimidated female officers and violated its own policy when investigating the sexist and derogatory comments allegedly made by Bomkamp.
In an additional incident, Detective Sergeant James Loeffelholz allegedly replaced Whitehead with a male officer with less experience and a lower rank to interview a witness.
Over the course of these incidents, the lawsuit claims Whitehead’s male colleagues were granted mental health accommodations.
Whitehead later filed a complaint with the PCSD’s Human Resources Department in January 2020. She claims in the lawsuit that the investigation into her complaint was delayed and HR representatives ignored witnesses.
In February 2021, Whitehead learned that the HR investigator had dismissed all of her allegations, the lawsuit claimed, adding that there were numerous flaws in the investigator’s report.
Specific damages were not detailed in the lawsuit.
The PCSD and the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney's Office declined to comment on the lawsuit.
This isn’t the first lawsuit that has claimed sexism in the PCSD.
In November 2021, three Black female officers who worked the Pierce County Jail at the time filed a joint lawsuit against the department.
The lawsuit stated the PCSD “participated in and ignored racial harassment and discrimination, as well as gender-based discrimination, and allowed the culture of animosity towards African Americans and women to grow and fester.”