Sexual harassment case against Sylvester police chief settled for $145K

Sexual harassment case against Sylvester police chief settled for $145K
City of Sylvester Police Chief Shawn Urquhart (Source: City of Sylvester)

SYLVESTER, Ga. (WALB) - A Southwest Georgia police chief is still on duty after a hearing officer recently threw out sexual harassment allegations against her from someone within the department.

That ruling was made on March 10, clearing City of Sylvester Police Chief Shawn Urquhart of those claims.

According to paperwork by the accuser’s legal representatives, this all started in February 2020, when a 71-year-old woman claims she was subject to “intolerable sexual harassment and unwanted physical touching” in the workplace for months by Chief Urquhart.

“We don’t believe the chief had any fault. As a matter of fact, we believe if the City of Sylvester had followed their policy as written, it would not have gotten to this point,” Urquhart’s legal representative, Maurice King, told WALB News 10 Friday.

“We gonna follow the letter of the law, what our policy says and we’re gonna treat everybody with due process,” said Sylvester City Manager Autron Hayes.

Hayes said the police chief was placed on administrative leave for a week pending an investigation.

City leaders told us a thorough investigation was done, which led to Hayes recommending Urquhart be suspended. However, Urquhart and her legal team appealed that.

A hearing was held with witnesses and Chief Urquhart testifying.

The hearing officer ruled no disciplinary action be taken “based on the city’s failure to meet its burden of establishing the basis for the proposed adverse action with respect to allegations of sexual harassment.”

The officer’s ruling also said that Chief Urquhart’s credibility during her testimony, along with others, led him to his decision.

He also ruled that any adverse disciplinary actions from the accuser be removed from Urquhart’s personnel file.

The hearing officer did recommend that Chief Urquhart get sexual harassment training because of the “girl talk” heard during her testimony.

“We were satisfied,” said King.

“The city had no play or no decision in the hearing officer’s ruling. It’s a fair and impartial process,” said Hayes.

Hayes said this is the first time a harassment allegation has been made against Urquhart. He said they have recently had police leave and take positions elsewhere. However, there was no mass exit, and no one, that he’s aware of, left because of the allegations against the chief.

“If I would have believed that Chief Urquhart would have been a real serial sexual harasser, my punishment would have been more than suspension. It would have been termination,” said Hayes.

The City of Sylvester’s insurance reached a settlement agreement with the accuser, which included her voluntary resignation from the City of Sylvester and a $145,000 payout to her and her legal team.

Hayes said insurance paid the settlement and not tax dollars and as of now, their premium hasn’t gone up.

On the city’s end, the case is closed, Chief Urquhart’s job is not in jeopardy and Hayes said they just want to move forward.

“I just believe there was more to this story,” Hayes told WALB towards the end of his interview on Friday.

The woman who made the accusations told WALB News 10 she couldn’t talk about the case and her legal team hasn’t returned our calls.

WALB did talk to Chief Urquhart. She wanted her legal representative to speak on her behalf because, at the time of the call, she was taking care of a family member.

Hayes said new sexual harassment training and reporting policies have been put in place for all city employees following this case.

Copyright 2021 WALB. All rights reserved.