His interview had gone well, so well in fact that Elk Grove Police Department was ready to hire him on the spot.
Jeremy LeMire had been combat-tested as an intelligence analyst, first in the Army, then as a defense contractor, in Iraq and Afghanistan before returning stateside to teach others the world of intel.
Only the background interview stood in the way of a spot on the force, but LeMire was already girding for the sergeant’s questions about the destinations on his résumé and the man – a former boyfriend – who accompanied him at each posting.
“He said, ‘We don’t have one of you in this department.’ A sergeant said this,” LeMire, 34, said. “I thought, ‘That’s a red flag.’ ”
Thus began a nearly two-year stint at Elk Grove Police Department marked allegedly by verbal abuse, cat calls and retaliation, according to a 15-page civil complaint LeMire filed in January against the department.
Elk Grove city officials declined to talk about the suit other than to say it hadn’t yet been served in the case and had not yet filed a response. City officials in September rejected a civil “tort” or wrongful acts claim that LeMire filed in August, according to the suit.
But attorneys in the lawsuit filed Jan. 13 in Sacramento Superior Court allege the offending behavior occurred at the station house and in officers’ changing rooms, on the street at crime scenes and during investigations in 2014 and 2015, while LeMire was a probationary hire at the department.
Attorneys in the suit allege LeMire faced discrimination, harassment, defamation and, finally, payback, when he took his complaints to sergeants, Internal Affairs, an outside investigator, and finally to then-police chief Robert Lehner and his assistant Bryan Noblett, now the department’s leader.
LeMire was released from the department Feb. 25, 2016 – two weeks before he was to complete probation. His release initially prevented the otherwise qualified officer from obtaining employment and forced him to relocate to find work, his attorney said.
LeMire has since been hired by another law enforcement agency, he said.
LeMire recalled that the sergeant’s response during that background interview stopped the former soldier in his tracks, a painful reminder of days not that long ago in the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” when LeMire had to keep his sexual orientation in the shadows for fear of losing his job and career.
LeMire said the sergeant told him he didn’t know how an openly gay officer would do in the ranks, but assured him the department would support whatever decision he made.
“It’s honesty, but that tells you about the environment in that department,” LeMire said. “That set up everything.”
Attorneys in the documents say LeMire “endured … vulgar sexual comments and other comments that labeled his orientation “immoral and disgusting,” even, LeMire said, as he was called on to speak about workplace discrimination issues on the department’s behalf at recruiting and other events.
All, they said, made for a hostile work environment at Elk Grove Police Department.
The complaint cited officers’ response to a home where an alleged sexual assault involving a gay couple and a third man was reported. Officers on scene with LeMire joked about the assault and insinuated that the alleged victim “wanted the abuse,” according to the suit.
Attorneys also cited a supervisor’s homophobic break room rant about the ABC television series “Modern Family,” and the show’s depiction of a married gay couple. LeMire recalls remaining silent during the ugly episode as other superiors joined in.
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This is not happening. What in the world just happened? It put me back in the environment of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ You hear what leadership said and no one stopped it, like his comments were OK,” he said.
On other occasions, attorneys allege, LeMire was met with catcalls in the changing room and confronted suspicions that he would make passes at other officers. On yet another, attorneys say LeMire was asked during a lunch break whether the medications he took were HIV drugs.
LeMire withdrew from the other officers, mapping out his shifts to avoid abuse. He dressed before others arrived at the station, came in early to dodge the comments and ate lunch in his car, he said.
“I just wanted to survive,” he says now.
According to the lawsuit, LeMire’s complaints to his higher-ups – including an Internal Affairs lieutenant, Lehner and Noblett – led to retaliation.
LeMire’s work was called into question. He was denied training for what supervisors said were performance issues, though there were no such issues in his personnel file and he had received positive performance evaluations, the suit alleged. In December 2015, LeMire reported the denied training opportunities to an independent investigator, who met with co-workers and management.
A string of disciplinary write-ups followed his call to the outside investigator with his complaints of harassment and a hostile workplace, according to the suit.
The suit cites five disciplinary reports against LeMire in the two months after his Dec. 9, 2015, call to the independent investigator. Each time, he denied the accusations and said he was being singled out by the department until he was released just shy of his probation completion.
Today, he says his legal action “needs to be a wake-up call” for the department and community.
“The minute this was brought to light, they have to say it’s our responsibility and what are we going to do about it? That’s not what occurred,” LeMire said. “Discrimination is very much alive. Elk Grove needs that gut check.”