Austin detective sues city for sexual harassment

Officer Brenda Bermudez as seen in a promotional video distributed by the Austin Police Department.
Officer Brenda Bermudez as seen in a promotional video distributed by the Austin Police Department.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin police detective is suing the city over what she calls “severe sexual harassment” by other officers on the force.

According to the lawsuit, Officer Brenda Bermudez complained about actions by male detectives in the Human Trafficking Unit, where she started working in 2010. “The detectives would relentlessly taunt, harass and badger Detective Bermudez regarding the women (seen on prostitution-oriented websites), photographs, and sexual topics,” the suit claims.

Bermudez was also chastised for stopping unnecessary encounters between male detectives and unclothed female victims during undercover operations, the document says. Bermudez says she was also blocked from getting to the women on several occasions so male detectives could spend more time with the unclothed females.

Bermudez said the harassment got so bad that she would often wear ear plugs or headphones at work to avoid having to listen to the men.

After filing an internal affairs complaint in May 2013, Bermudez says she was “temporarily” removed from the Human Trafficking Unit and was told it was for her own “protection,” according to the lawsuit. She was moved to a division focused on auto theft and property crimes, while the men she reported were allowed to continue working in the Human Trafficking Unit. She was told in November 2013 that the Human Trafficking Unit was being “disbanded” and that she would not be allowed to transfer back as promised, the suit says. She is currently working in the Financial Crimes Unit.

The court document adds that Bermudez received a written reprimand following an internal affairs investigation for her alleged sexual harassment of male police officers.

The Austin Police Department said Tuesday they were aware of the lawsuit but could not provide further comment. A statement from the City of Austin said they are “generally aware of the details regarding the matter and stands ready to defend against the litigation, however we have not yet received a lawsuit.”

Bermudez has been with the department since 2001 and is asking for up to $1 million in damages from the city.

She was awarded a Purple Heart after a violent incident in 2006 while trying to arrest a suspect on Riverside Drive. At first, the driver complied, but then he took off. The driver ended up dragging Bermudez about 15 feet, even running over her legs. She was taken to the hospital with serious neck and back injuries. The driver pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

More recently, Bermudez helped get a message out about sexual abuse, sharing her personal story in a Public Service Announcement that was released by APD earlier this year.

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