3 sheriff’s detectives sue county, claiming sex harassment

Six current and former King County sheriff’s employees have stepped forward to back the claims of three detectives who allege they were the victims of rampant sexual harassment while working in the department’s Sexual Assault Unit.

The witnesses, three men and three women, were publicly revealed for the first time in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court against King County by veteran detectives Marylisa Priebe-Olsen, Janette Luitgaarden and Belinda Ferguson.

Identifying two sergeants as the offenders, the suit was filed after the detectives failed to resolve claims the brought against the county in August in which they each initially sought up to $3 million.

The 19-page suit, which seeks unspecified damages, provides far more graphic allegations than contained in the original claims, including detailed descriptions from the witnesses of boorish behavior, crude remarks and the belittling of sexual-assault victims.

One of the sergeants named in the suit, Anthony Provenzo, openly talked about names for his penis and commented on its size, sheriff’s Detective Casey Johnson wrote in a declaration attached to the suit.

On one occasion, Provenzo took a plastic penis and hung it out the bottom of his pants, Johnson wrote.

Provenzo also made “unprofessional and disrespectful” remarks about the size of one of the detective’s buttocks and commented on the breasts of another, wrote Sherrie Lochow, a longtime clerk in the Sexual Assault Unit.

Lochow said she was directed by Provenzo to find mistakes by Luitgaarden but not for other detectives.

Detective Mike Gordon described Priebe-Olsen, Luitgaarden and Ferguson as “hard-working” detectives dedicated to “bringing justice for sexual-assault victims.”

But Provenzo “created a divisive and almost intolerable working environment for female detectives on the unit,” targeting them for unfair criticism that was not directed at male detectives who made the same mistakes, Gordon wrote, noting that he had reported the conduct in 2011 as part of a grievance filed by Luitgaarden.

Gordon said he also witnessed Provenzo make derogatory and offensive remarks about victims, including a 4-month-old baby who was severely injured by her father. Provenzo made a “completely insensitive” comment about the victim, Gordon wrote.

“I was so upset, and shocked by this callous remark that I left the building,” he wrote.

The other sergeant was identified in the suit as Paul Mahlum.

He and Provenzo engaged in “chronic sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation and the creation of a hostile work environment in the Special Assault Unit,” according to the suit.

Former deputy Roxanne Bauer wrote in a declaration that she heard Provenzo and Mahlum openly discussed the breasts of one of the detectives and that the two made a “regular sport” of making derogatory remarks about her work.

Provenzo was transferred out of the Sexual Assault Unit last year.

In the original claims filed in August, Dave Jutilla, who was the chief deputy in the Sheriff’s Office and a past sergeant in the Sexual Assault Unit, also was named as tolerating sexual and gender harassment. He was not included in the lawsuit.