Lawsuit claims Dalton police officer commanded intern to perform sex act against her will

Mar. 19—A civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court in Rome claims a Dalton Police Department officer while on duty performed a sex act on a department intern against her will and commanded her to perform a sex act on him.

The lawsuit by "Jane Doe" names former officer Ethan Wayne Pugh and the city of Dalton as defendants.

Meanwhile in a criminal case against Pugh, the 30-year-old Resaca resident was charged Tuesday with violation of oath by a public officer, sexual battery, aggravated sexual battery and public indecency. He was booked into the Whitfield County Jail Tuesday and was released on $20,000 bond the same day.

In a statement, the Dalton Police Department said: "On July 10, 2020, the Dalton Police Department was notified of criminal accusations against an officer. That information was promptly turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. On the same day, the officer offered his resignation from the department and it was accepted. The Dalton Police Department takes any allegation of misconduct seriously and makes sure they are thoroughly investigated by the proper authority. Any questions regarding this incident should be directed to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation."

City officials referred questions regarding the lawsuit to Atlanta attorney John Bennett of Freeman Mathis & Gary. Bennett declined to speak.

According to Doe's complaint, in the summer of 2019, when she was 21, she became an intern at the Dalton Police Department with the goal of becoming "the fourth generation of her family" and the first woman in her family to serve in law enforcement. She was as an intern from June 3, 2019 to July 11, 2019.

Part of her duties was attending a weekly ride-along with a patrol officer, spending the day observing that officer on duty.

On July 8, she was assigned to ride along with Pugh. The complaint said that while the two were walking towards Pugh's patrol car, "Pugh purposefully and intentionally grabbed Ms. Doe's buttocks and did so without warning or consent."

The complaint said later "Pugh drove them to a secluded and empty lot where he parked the car in which he and Ms. Doe were the only occupants, both seated in the front, and locked the doors of the patrol car. Without warning or consent Defendant Pugh leaned over and began forcefully kissing Ms. Doe on the mouth and with his tongue." The complaint said Doe pulled away from Pugh until she was against the passenger door and did not kiss him back. The complaint said that Pugh placed his hand inside her pants and committed a sex act that was "unwanted, uninvited and unwarranted."

During the afternoon, as the ride-along continued, the complaint said, Pugh again drove them to a secluded spot and parked the patrol car and locked the doors. The complaint said he then "commanded Ms. Doe in a frightening tone of voice" to perform a sex act on him.

The complaint said Doe "feared for her safety" because they were alone and Pugh was armed and "much larger than her." The complaint said she complied with his command "fearing that Defendant Pugh would rape her if she did not."

The complaint said that Pugh drove them back to police headquarters where "he threatened Ms. Doe, directing her not to tell anyone what happened because he would get fired, his wife would come after Ms. Doe and no one would believe her if she did report him."

The complaint said that after her internship ended "Pugh repeatedly sent her sexually explicit content" including photographs and videos of himself. The complaint said she asked him to stop but he did not. At one point, Pugh called her and "attempted a video chat with her." She did not accept the call.

The complaint said that Doe later befriended the director of a local center for those have been sexually abused. She eventually confided her experience with Pugh with that woman. With that woman's support, Doe reported Pugh to the police department on July 10, 2020. He resigned that same day and the department turned the investigation over to the GBI.

The Whitfield County grand jury indictment of Pugh said that on July 8, 2019, Pugh "while on duty as a police officer did engage in sexual contact" with "a college student doing an internship with the police department and assigned to do a ride-along with" Pugh. The description of Pugh's actions in the indictment matches a number of the claims in the complaint.

According to the complaint, a year earlier, on Aug. 20, 2018, Pugh admitted to violating department policies on harassment and discrimination in the workplace and signed a "waiver of pre-disciplinary hearing" in which he admitted "I did not treat a group of females with respect and was not courteous to them. My behavior of asking for unwelcomed requests and comments may have lead (sic) this group of females to feel intimidated and uncomfortable in the workplace."

The complaint said the conduct for which Pugh was disciplined included "sending and/or making inappropriate text messages, phone calls, comments and/or requests for photographs to female officers and a female judge."

The complaint said that a captain recommended that Pugh be fired at that time. Instead, Pugh was suspended without pay and given a written reprimand, a performance contract and remedial training.

Doe is being represented by Atlanta attorneys Andrew Beal and Milinda Brown of Buckley Beal and Jonathan Grunberg of WGW Law and Ringgold attorney McCracken Poston.

"The city had enough knowledge about officer Pugh's conduct before the ride-along with our client to know that she never she should have been in that car," said Grunberg.

Beal said that Doe "is a strong person."

"But as you can imagine, this lawsuit does nothing but bring up and force her to relive that awful time," Beal said. "We hope the police department uses this opportunity to discuss resolution of the case, if for no other reason than to minimize the impact on her going through the litigation process. She's prepared to do that. She's committed to doing that, and she's capable of doing that. But we hope that's not entirely necessary."

Asked about the criminal charges against Pugh, Beal said that Doe is "glad that she had an impact, that he is not going to be around to do this to the next person." But he said the experience "has definitely had an impact" on Doe's plans to pursue a career in law enforcement.

"I'm not saying she won't go in that direction. She's a young woman. She's got plenty of time to make up her mind," Beal said. "But, yes, it has had an impact."

District Attorney Bert Poston said he had "conflicted out of the case," meaning that because it was a Dalton officer he removed himself from the case to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. Lookout Mountain District Attorney Chris Arnt is handling the case.

"This is a pending case so I cannot discuss any of the details of the case," Arnt said. "State Bar rules strictly limit what may be discussed while a case is pending."

Pugh joined the Dalton Police Department in December 2015 after graduating from the Georgia Regional Police Academy in Rome, according to a post on the department's website. He is a 2009 graduate of Castle View High School in Castle Rock, Colorado, and attended classes at Colorado Technical University in 2012. He is also an Army veteran, serving from June 2009 until November 2013.