Des Moines denies sexual harassment claims against police department, admits 'inappropriate conduct' in agency

In response to a lawsuit alleging widespread sexual harassment and gender discrimination within the Des Moines Police Department, the city said there were some past instances of "inappropriate conduct" from its officers, but that the city is not legally culpable of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

The city denied a vast majority of the allegations in the lawsuit in its filing Wednesday. While the city did admit to instances of officers' improper behavior, as described in the lawsuit, it said the conduct fell short of sexual harassment or gender discrimination.

The lawsuit, filed by group of female employees of the Des Moines Police Department, accuses the city of Des Moines and its police department of allowing sexual harassment to continue for decades and of failing to adequately investigate misconduct, which the city denies.

Previously: These female Des Moines Police Department employees love their jobs. They say that's why they're suing.

The women detailed their allegations last year in an interview with the Des Moines Register. All five women still work for the Des Moines Police Department.

What do the women claim and what did the city admit to?

In June and July 2021, officer Tracy Rhoads accused Ben Idhe of sexual harassment after he allegedly asked her if he could get to "first base" for five cupcakes, "second base" for 10 cupcakes, and if she could give him a "hickey" for 30 cupcakes, the lawsuit said. And during an Aug. 2021 roll call, Idhe allegedly sexually objectified a nurse he had met, it said.

In its Wednesday filing, the city admitted that Idhe acted inappropriately and stated he would have been fired from the department if he had not resigned before an investigation into his conduct was completed.

Read more: Female Des Moines police officers, employees allege sexual harassment, gender discrimination in lawsuit

Lieutenant Cynthia Donahue, Senior Police Officer Tracy Rhoads, Senior Police Officer Jessica Bastian, and Public Safety Digital Evidence Specialist Shannon Duffy, of the Des Moines police department stand for a photo at the Newkirk Zwagerman law firm in Des Moines, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. The group are part of a lawsuit against the Des Moines police department alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination spanning decades.

In Aug. 2020, Des Moines police officer Jessica Bastian told her supervisors that former Des Moines police officer Stew Barnes sent her explicit photos and messages, the lawsuit details.

The city admitted that Barnes sent the explicit messages and photographs to Bastian. Barnes was the Des Moines police union president for nearly two decades before he retired in 2020 following an investigation into his conduct.

The response said that once the conduct was reported, the city took action to protect employees.

The city denied the allegation that Barnes allegedly asked women to participate in a "naked dare game" and other claims based on a lack of information or knowledge.

Rhoads alleged that, in 2011, Sgt. John LePorte began harassing her and other female employees; made comments about officers being gay; made gendered comments regarding the performance of female officers; followed Rhoads while on duty; attempted to physically touch Rhoads; and gave Rhoads two large tubs of coconut oil, telling her it was "excellent for massage," according to the lawsuit.

The city admitted that LePorte engaged in inappropriate conduct and stated that the city investigated his conduct and appropriate action was taken.

In 1997 when Rhoads was hired as a Des Moines police officer, she alleged she was harassed and discriminated by the officer assigned to train her, Tom Sullivan.

Rhoads alleged in the lawsuit he made comments such as: “who did I piss off, they gave me a f******* woman;" "look at my partner’s lesbian haircut;" and "dyke."

The city denied the claim that Sullivan harassed and discriminated Rhoads and denied the alleged comments based on a lack of information. It admitted, however, that Sullivan engaged in inappropriate conduct.

Andrea Sahouri covers social justice for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at, on Twitter @andreamsahouri, or by phone 515-284-8247.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Des Moines Police says city denies harassment, admits improper conduct