BRENTWOOD — The city has agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit by a former Brentwood police officer, who alleged that she was raped by a lieutenant and that higher-ups at the police department helped cover it up.
The woman, who this newspaper is not naming, accused former police Lt. Salvatore DiMercurio of raping her in a hotel room in Reno, Nevada, where they were both attending a training conference. In exchange for the settlement, the woman dropped her lawsuit and released claims against all parties.
After the woman’s suit was filed, in February 2019, two additional women came forward with allegations against DiMercurio. One, a former Brentwood police officer, claimed DiMercurio retaliated against her when she rebuffed a sexual advance from him. The other alleged that DiMercurio sexually assaulted her roughly 20 years ago, according to court records.
The initial accuser’s attorney, Gary Gwilliam, said in an interview that the settlement shows his client’s claims were legitimate. He described the Brentwood police department as a “good old boys club,” where a blind eye was turned to sexual harassment.
“This was not an isolated incident. More importantly, it was a failure of the city to supervise this kind of thing. They tolerated it,” Gwilliam said. “I’m sorry but that’s just not the way it works in the era of the Me Too movement,” .
Asked to comment on Gwilliam’s remarks, Brentwood City Manager Tim Ogden wrote in an email, “we won’t be responding to these unsubstantiated accusations.” Ogden described the woman’s claims as “a serious personnel matter,” while also noting only a small fraction of the $1 million settlement came directly out of the city’s coffers.
“While we are disappointed in the entire situation, we believe the City Council decision to settle saved the taxpayers significant resources compared to a lengthy legal battle, and that because of our insurance policy the city only paid $50,000,” Ogden wrote.
Gwilliam was skeptical that the decision to settle the suit was made to protect public funds.
“They didn’t pay this money because they were worried about taxpayer dollars or taxpayer insurance,” he said. “They paid the money because they were responsible and they knew it.”
DiMercurio’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to the sexual assault, which the former officer said occurred in DiMercurio’s hotel room in Reno, the woman’s suit also alleged that the Brentwood police department tried to cover up the incident, that DiMercurio “essentially stalked” her afterward to ensure she would not report a rape to her superiors, and that two of his friends in the department’s administration — Chief Tom Hansen and now retired Captain Benjamin Tolero — opened a “supervisory inquiry” instead of an internal affairs investigation when the woman reported to higher-ups that she had been raped.
The suit alleged Tolero interviewed her, asking a series of “yes or no” questions that the woman’s lawyers claim were designed to confirm DiMercurio’s story that there had been no sexual intercourse and that any contact between was consensual. The suit says Tolero was blunt about his intent to protect “the city’s interest,” and that he also mentioned an upcoming “sergeants review,” implying that she would get promoted if she played along.
DiMercurio, who was a police lieutenant at the time of the alleged incident, resigned from the police force within 48 hours of the lawsuit being filed, city officials said.
The woman had been a longtime officer with nearly 20 years of experience and a onetime member of the department’s crisis negotiation team, which DiMercurio headed. The lawsuit says that in September 2017, she, DiMercurio and a third officer went to the conference in Reno and checked into a hotel.
On the first night, DiMercurio asked her to come to his room. When she did, she found “DiMercurio in bed, without a shirt.” He allegedly grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her toward him, but she told him “no” and left, the suit alleged.
The next day, after the three had dinner and drinks, DiMercurio again invited the woman to his room, the suit alleged. When she showed up at his room, the suit says DiMercurio blocked the exit, pulled down the woman’s pants and forced her to engage in oral and vaginal sex, “while tightly grabbing her arms, causing bruising.”
During the assault, the woman’s husband called using a video chat app, which caused DiMercurio to “freak out” and hide beside the bed, and then order the woman to leave, the suit said. Later, he told her to delete text messages in which they discussed the suit.
Initially, the city’s lawyers countered that the woman engaged in consensual sex with DiMercurio to make her husband jealous and that the ploy “backfired,” according to court records.
After the woman’s suit was filed, the second woman who worked as a Brentwood officer came forward alleging that DiMercurio had sexually harassed her, including by making sexual advancement and inappropriate remarks, including that women should be home cooking dinner for their husbands. She alleged that after she reported the conduct to Tolero and other superiors, DiMercurio confronted her, asking, “how dare you betray me,” according to court records filed by the plaintiffs.