Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto is the focus of a federal sexual harassment lawsuit alleging he made numerous unwanted advances to a female correctional deputy over a 14-year span and that supervising deputies ignored her complaints.
Victoria Zetwick, a corrections sergeant and veteran of 24 years in the Sheriff's Department, alleges that Prieto embraced and kissed her more than 100 times in the 14 years since he became sheriff.
The suit, filed Oct. 3 in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, names Prieto and Yolo County as co-defendants and seeks undisclosed damages, claiming "mental anguish and emotional distress."
"Each time was awkward, unsolicited and unwelcome," the suit states, adding later that Prieto acted with "impunity and increasing boldness" and was unfit to serve as sheriff.
Attorneys for Yolo County have seen the complaint but would not comment, calling it a personnel issue, said county spokeswoman Beth Gabor.
Prieto emphatically denied the allegations Tuesday but said an outside agency will investigate the claims.
"I'm offended by these misleading statements," Prieto said. "But the Yolo County Sheriff's Department takes any complaint seriously. An investigation will be conducted. This will not affect the integrity and honesty of our agency."
Zetwick's attorneys, Johnny L. Griffin and Manolo H. Olaso, were not available Tuesday.
The suit alleges the improper behavior began in 1998 and included a May 2003 employee awards ceremony during which Zetwick said Prieto kissed her on the lips while presenting her an award. Attorneys in the suit stated that Zetwick told her husband, co-workers and supervising lieutenants that she was offended.
Zetwick, in the suit, alleged that Prieto's behavior continued through 2011 and included a ceremony for newly hired deputies, creating a hostile work environment that "permanently altered the workplace."
"Plaintiff found it difficult to concentrate at work when Prieto was nearby, her work was made inefficient during times she tried to avoid contact with Prieto, and she grew anxious and upset when Prieto was nearby or was said to be on his way," the suit read.
But Zetwick's lieutenants did not follow up on her complaints and discouraged her from complaining about the alleged advances because she had recently been promoted to sergeant and was still in a probationary period in her new rank, the suit alleges.
The deputy sergeant further alleges that her supervisors teased that Prieto intended to kiss her and were too intimidated by the sheriff to pursue Zetwick's allegations.
On other occasions, Zetwick's suit alleged, Prieto asked other female deputies about their weight and hugged and kissed them.
The suit states Zetwick filed a tort claim with Yolo County and a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this year before going ahead with the federal lawsuit.
Zetwick continues to work in the Sheriff's Department, sheriff's officials said.