A witness in the discrimination case on trial in California’s Northern District court house between a San Francisco police officer and four female officers testified that he overheard a phone conversation in which one of the defendants was given advice about how to “get” Officer Lori Dutra.
Retired San Francisco Police officer Ernest McNett testified Thursday in the lawsuit in which Officer Dutra has accused four female officers of drafting memos that defamed her and ultimately resulted in her temporary transfer out of the Mission Police Station to Treasure Island. Officer Dutra is now on maternity leave.
The officers named in the lawsuit are Sergeant Marta McDowell, retired Sergeant Kimberly Reynolds, Sergeant Lynn Reilly, and retired Sergeant Carri Lucas–all but the latter identify as lesbians.
McNett said that he heard his former superior, Sgt. Mary Dunnigan, tell Sgt. McDowell, to generate memos that would make Dutra “look emotional.”
“Dunnigan was telling McDowell that if she wanted to ‘get’ Lori, she’d have to write memos about her,” said McNett, who worked at the Behvioral Science Unit on Treasure Island during the time that Dutra was transferred there. “The connotation could have meant a lot of things.”
“[Dunnigan] thought that this would help establish a ‘risky personality’ with Lori,” McNett added.
McNett, who worked at the unit for approximately ten years, said that he does not recall any other officer besides Dutra being transferred there involuntarily.
“Lori was transferred as a result of the memos,” said McNett.
Most of the witnesses in the first week of the trial offered testimony about the alleged conspiring that took place behind closed doors at Mission Police Station.
Dutra says that she was transferred out of Mission Station and forced to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation as a direct result of three memos drafted by the defendants in March 2008.
Among other things, the memo’s doubted Dutra’s emotional stability and accused her of being “addicted to drama.”
In the memos, the defendants, some of whom had befriended the plaintiff, questioned her emotional and mental ability to work as a police officer – allegedly to run Dutra out of the Mission Station, according to Dutra’s attorney Phyllis Andelin.
Besides accusing Dutra of addiction and gambling problems, the memos were based on personal information and “gossip” that the defendants had obtained while working with her at Mission Station, said Andelin.
The courtroom was filled with tension as six witnesses testified all day Thursday. Sergeant Ian Furminger, the second witness to be summoned by Andelin said he considered Officer Dutra to be “a good police officer.”
Furminger led the plain clothes team at Mission Station, and worked with Dutra on several occasions before requesting her permanent transfer to his team in March 2008.
According to Furminger, some of the defendants voiced their disapproval with this request.
“Marta [McDowell] was very concerned over Lori’s behavior,” said Furminger, shifting uncomfortably in his seat while testifying about the events that occurred on March 19, 2008, the day the memos were drafted. “She said, ‘she doesn’t know if she was straight or a dyke.’”
Dutra, who’s sexuality has been the center of the lawsuit, says that she has dated both men and women, and accuses the defendants of teasing and disparaging her after she became engaged to a man in July 2007.
“[McDowell] was concerned about Lori’s mental state of mind and that she was possibly not a very good fit if I continued with her,” added Furminger, who also said he was not surprised about McDowell’s comment. “People talk certain ways sometimes to get their point across—I didn’t take offense to that.”
Furminger said in his deposition that McDowell approached him and called Dutra “crazy” and “out of control.”
During his testimony, however, Furminger said that he did not remember those exact words being used, but that “something to that effect” was said when Dutra’s assignment to his team was pending.
“They worked with her for a lot longer than I had, so I didn’t know what the memos were about,” said Furminger, referring to the defendants.“ And quite frankly, I didn’t want to know.”
“Those girls are good people, I feel torn,” said Furminger outside of court after his testimony. “I don’t know the depth of everything that’s going on.”