LOS ANGELES - Four employees are taking San Bernardino County's public defender's office to court over allegations of sexual misconduct.
The claim filed by four employees against the San Bernardino County Public Defender’s Office is extensive and disturbing. If true, it amounts to a culture of sexual harassment that is long-standing and has been seemingly ignored by law enforcement agencies that were supposedly being reported to.
Named are the county, as well as the former leader of the office, Christopher Gardner, who quit the job in December of 2020 after more than 15 years with the office. No explanation was given back then, and our attempts to reach him about this development have been unsuccessful.
Bradley Gage, the attorney behind this lawsuit, claims in the paperwork that Gardner used his position to control work assignments and pressure female employees to have sex with him.
The women in the press conference, who still work at the office, offered accounts of being coerced into relationships, threatened – and even punished – if they tried to end the affairs.
One of them, Stacy Thacker, described how Gardner supposedly followed her in his car, as she tried to drive away after an attempt to end the relationship.
"Trying to run her off the road," Thacker explained, adding she reported the alleged incident to authorities.
"He used his political power to stop any investigation," she said.
Also at the press conference was Damien Gibbs, who is not included in the complaint, but described having a sexual relationship with a female supervisor at the office who threatened him when he tried to end it. Gage used the words "sexual slave" when describing Gibb’s situation, alleging that the woman actually had him arrested and put in jail when he ended the affair, with no charges filed.
The victims, in-person and in the paperwork, say they reported the behavior to their supervisors – alleged behavior that supposedly goes back to 2016, and got "so bad by 2020 that life was hell" for them at the office. That’s why, they say, they are filing this lawsuit. Gage says more victims will be coming forward.
San Bernardino County Public Defender officials declined to comment on camera. San Bernardino County released the following statement:
"San Bernardino County has no higher priority than providing a safe, equitable and harassment-free working environment for all of our employees. The County takes allegations of harassment, sexual misconduct, and retaliation very seriously and immediately conducts full investigations into any and all reports of misconduct. The County has a strong zero-tolerance policy against workplace misconduct and retaliation and requires employees to read and sign the policy upon hiring and as part of all regular employment evaluations."
With allegations that go from sexual harassment to misconduct that includes other top administrators involved in drug use, using public funds to pay for porn sites, fetish props, and partying that included a wide array of sexual behavior, it comes down to the phrase used in the complaint – describing a department immersed in "an ‘Animal House’ frat party sex atmosphere."