PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney held a press conference a day after Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross resigned following sexual harassment allegations within the department. Kenney didn’t say he was surprised, however, he did initially reject Ross’ resignation at first on Monday because he wanted more information about why he wanted to step down.
“Ultimately, I accepted his resignation because we both agreed it was the best course of action for the department at this particular time,” Kenney said.
Kenney said Ross stood firm about stepping down as the city’s top cop after a lawsuit claims he failed to address sexual harassment allegations.
“It was his decision to resign and I think he made the right decision. He made the right decision for himself and for the city,” Kenney said.
Kenney added that it appeared the job was taking a toll on Ross, especially after last week’s incident where six cops were shot during a standoff in the Nicetown-Tioga section.
“After the wonderful performance last week of our people and him leading that, I asked him, I said, ‘Are you OK? He said, ‘No, I’m tired, I’m really tired.’ I think that’s part of what this all culminated in. I think he made the right decision for the department and for the city. But I don’t want to forget all the positive things that happened the three-and-a-half years,” Kenney said, indicating how the police department performed during the Democratic National Convention, Super Bowl parade, and the NFL Draft under Ross’ tenure.
Kenney appointed Christine Coulter as acting police commissioner as the search for a permanent replacement begins. Kenney said they will be searching locally and nationally to fill the job.
Sources tell CBS3 that Ross had received allegations from at least two women regarding gender and race discrimination and the women were disappointed at how the allegations were handled.
A federal civil lawsuit obtained by CBS3 names Ross as a defendant, stating that he was told about the sexual harassment allegations but did nothing to stop the behavior.
The lawsuit, filed by two Philadelphia police officers last week, claims both women were sexually harassed and discriminated against and their reports to superiors — including Ross — went without resolve.
Cpl. Audra McCowan, one of the plaintiffs, says she texted and called Ross in February to inform him of a male officer who was sexually harassed her. The lawsuit alleges Ross declined to act on her report, texting back, “So why don’t you just order his dumb ass to go sit down and get out of your face ‘Officer.'”
McCowan texted back, “Think about how you would feel if it was your daughter. Would it matter if it was someone that works for her or not? If she told the person to repeatedly stop, that doesn’t matter?”
During the conversations, Ross allegedly stated that he was going to “school” McCowan on sexual harassment and implied that he was upset with her and would not act on her complaints in retribution for breaking off an affair she and Ross had from 2009 to 2011, according to the lawsuit.
Patrol Officer Jennifer Allen was also listed as a plaintiff in the suit. She claims she was sexually harassed and groped by a superior on multiple occasions.
The lawsuit also states that Allen, while working at the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center after returning from maternity leave, had her breast milk stolen from a refrigerator in the cafeteria.
Allen says she notified a superior, who failed to take action, and later made jokes about her milk being stolen and made comments about “wanting chocolate milk” or “needing milk.”
The Associated Press is reporting the women reached a temporary agreement with the city involving fears of retribution.
Ross was not named in the allegations.
Prior to the press conference, Ross told reporters that he was not forced out as commissioner.
“I just thought for the greater good of all citizens of Philadelphia, fine police officers here and the mayor that it would be better if I just move along given everything else that we have to contend with, this issue would be a distraction, that this department and city don’t need. My love for this organization, my love for this city has compelled me to make a decision that’s bigger than me. It’s with great regret that I leave something that I enjoy, but we’ve been through a lot in the last three-and-a-half years,” Ross said.
Ross said he took “serious umbrage” with the issue that he targeted and sought retribution against somebody.
“The only thing that I will tell you is, that in 55 years of life, and 30 years of law enforcement, God and everybody else who knows me, knows I have never targeted a person, I have never sought retribution on a person, personally or professionally, and so I take serious umbrage with that part of this issue as well as others,” the former commissioner said.
Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby said it’s tough to see Ross go.
“When you’re the top guy, you’re not going to make everybody happy. You’re going to have some naysayers but I think, all in all, he led the department professionally and in a manner which need to be done,” McNesby said.
City officials said today sexual harassment training is required for all department managers.
The last few months of Ross’ three-year tenure has been marred by violence in the city and misconduct in the department. Ross recently fired several officers for posting racist comments on social media.
Ross served as commissioner since January 2016 before resigning.
CBS3’s Howard Monroe contributed to this report.