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Ex-Irwindale police cadet charges sexual harassment by lieutenant

Woman's lawsuit says Lt. Mario Camacho pressured her to accept his advances in exchange for favorable treatment at work and a reduced rate on a rental condo.

January 03, 2013|Los Angeles Times

A cadet who said she was sexually harassed and later forced to quit has sued the Irwindale Police Department, the second lawsuit in six months to question the behavior of a high-ranking police lieutenant

Both lawsuits filed against the agency name Lt. Mario Camacho. In July, Officer Rudy Campos filed a federal lawsuit alleging that he didn't get overtime and received negative performance evaluations after he voted against a contract provision Camacho favored. That case is pending.

The most recent complaint, filed Dec. 11 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that Camacho sexually harassed Alma Chavez, a non-sworn police cadet who started working with the department in 2008. She alleged that Camacho held her hand, kissed her and groped her while they were on duty, sometimes in his office or city-owned car.

Initially, she rebuffed his advances, but gave in when he created "a hostile work environment," according to the lawsuit. When Chavez accepted Camacho's advances, he promised her a full-time permanent position with the city.

Camacho "would be really mean to her and make it difficult for her at work, but when she accepted the advances he was really nice to her," said Brandi Harper, a lawyer representing Chavez and Campos. "When she started, she was 19 years old, her dream was to be a police officer and he knew it."

Irwindale Police Chief Dennis Smith referred questions to attorney Jeffrey Thompson, who is representing the department in both lawsuits. He declined to comment on any specifics.

"The city takes these type of matters very seriously and believes it has done nothing wrong in this case," Thompson said. "We will be defending it aggressively."

During Chavez's more than four years of employment at the Irwindale Police Department, Camacho gave her gift cards worth hundreds of dollars at Victoria's Secret and Forever 21, as well as a Tiffany's bracelet and Louis Vuitton purse, according to court records..

In an October deposition, Camacho didn't deny that he gave her gifts and admitted kissing and holding Chavez's hand while they were on duty because they "were close friends."

He said he also lent her money and rented Chavez a condo he owned at below-market value to help her out, but later asked her to move out when he discovered someone else was staying there and not paying rent.

In the lawsuit, Chavez said that she felt forced to quit and that Camacho was upset because she was living at the condo with her boyfriend. He allegedly called her into a meeting and told her, "I can't stand working with you anymore, this meeting will be your two weeks' notice."

She submitted a resignation letter after that meeting, according to the complaint.

Thompson declined to say whether Camacho had been disciplined or placed on administrative leave.

adolfo.flores@latimes.com

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