Squeal Like a Pig

Getting groped was a nightmare in a city that can't get a grip.

As far as Leonard Sylcox was concerned, his supervisor, Stephen Miller, was a real pain in the ass.

Consider the time Sylcox and Miller were entering Overland police headquarters:

"While walking up the steps, Miller put a finger between the cheeks of my rear end and pushed forward very hard towards my rectum," Sylcox recalls in a complaint written several months later. "As I tried to run quickly up the steps, he began running with me, keeping pressure on my rectum with his finger. At the top of the steps, I abruptly turned around, swatting his hand and pushing him away. I made a comment toward him and continued to walk to the front office. About halfway there, I turned around to see what he was doing, and he had the finger he used to touch my rear end under his nose and he was smelling it."

Roy Tompkins
Roy Tompkins

Sylcox, an Overland police officer, was carrying a gun, but he didn't use it.

Nor did he immediately pick up a pen to file a formal complaint.

Sylcox was afraid -- so afraid that he remained silent for months despite near-constant harassment.

Right from the start, Miller's behavior was beyond outrageous, Sylcox alleges.

On his first day working with Miller in the department's storefront office a couple miles from headquarters, Sylcox says he was kneeling down to pick up a piece of paper when Miller grabbed his head and began thrusting his crotch into Sylcox's face. When Sylcox turned around to model a new jacket, Miller grasped his partner's hips and began grinding his gonads into Sylcox's buttocks. While leaning over to help Miller with a computer glitch, Sylcox says his partner put his finger at the bottom of his testicles and started moving his hand up his pants.

Sylcox says he would push Miller away and demand that he stop, but Miller, a lead patrolman, never got the hint. Sylcox says he tried to avoid Miller, but that often proved impossible in the small office at Overland Plaza where the two worked as Drug Abuse Resistance Education officers. Miller would walk into the restroom while Sylcox was urinating, wanting to compare penis sizes. When Sylcox was in the middle of a phone call, he alleges Miller once kissed him on the top of the head, told him that he loved him and then walked out of the office.

He says he put up with the abuse for nearly a year before finally screwing up enough courage to complain about Miller, an alleged favorite of Overland Police Chief James Herron.

Instead of solving Sylcox's problem, complaining only made matters worse, according to his attorney and court papers.

Though Miller resigned soon after the complaint was lodged (he left the police force in January 2001 and now works as a detective at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport), Sylcox and two colleagues claim they were punished after Miller was exposed. Sylcox and the two other cops, who've since resigned, recently became the latest public employees to sue Overland, a city that has lost a long string of employment-discrimination lawsuits.

In the past six years, Overland and its insurers have paid more than $1.16 million in settlements and verdicts to a half-dozen former employees. The amount is equivalent to more than 10 percent of Overland's annual budget, nearly $70 for every man, woman and child in the city of 16,838. Court records show that Overland is, by far, the most frequently sued city of its size in St. Louis County for violations of federal employment laws. Successful plaintiffs range from department heads to a laborer.

But big payouts haven't convinced city officials that they're doing anything wrong. Nor did recommendations made in 1997 by Francis Slay, a lawyer who is now St. Louis mayor, force the city to change its employee-abusing, money-losing practices.

Instead, Overland officials blame everyone but themselves.

They were by-the-book cops who didn't want to go to court.

But Sylcox sued Overland in March, alleging that police department brass first didn't do enough to stop Miller, then punished him when he complained about the harassment.

Sylcox was joined in his lawsuit by former Officer Jonathan Alves, who also alleges he was harassed by Miller, then suffered retaliation by his superiors when he spoke out.

Former Officer Clifford Gibson has also sued Overland, claiming he was driven out of the department after he refused to help torpedo Sylcox's career.

Sylcox, Gibson and Miller all worked as DARE officers in the department's community-relations division. As DARE officers, they were supposed to be models for school children and the department's public face at community meetings.

Alves was also an exemplary cop, according to former Overland Police Chief Russell Coffell, who collected at least $170,000 last year to settle his wrongful-termination lawsuit alleging he was fired for investigating reports of municipal corruption. "He's a former Marine honor guard," Coffell says. "I was very impressed with Jon. He was well-rounded. Good customer-service skills. Just a very squared-away, sharp, young man." Alves is now selling cars at a Chevrolet dealership.

None of the plaintiffs agreed to an interview -- their accounts come from written complaints and resignation letters first given to the department, then forwarded to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Their attorney, Donald Murano, says Sylcox can't speak to the media because he is still employed by Overland. Gibson is frequently out of town, Murano says, and Alves doesn't want to resurrect unpleasant memories. "He is so distraught about how he was treated," Murano says. "He doesn't want to even think about it. It has truly shattered his future as to what he wanted to be."

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