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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former cadets sue WA police academy, trainer over sexual harassment allegations

By Mike Carter Seattle Times

Two former cadets at Washington’s police academy have filed a lawsuit alleging they and several other female colleagues endured months of sexual harassment by their instructor, a former Port of Seattle police officer now facing possible decertification.

Snohomish County sheriff’s Deputy Haydyn Wagner and Port Orchard police Officer Aimee Allen alleged in the lawsuit that Officer LeLand Allen, their instructor, used his power and authority to sexually harass and touch the female recruits of Basic Law Enforcement Academy Class 828, which graduated in February 2022.

The class contained six female cadets, all of whom complained at one point or another about the Port of Seattle officer who had contracted with BLEA as their “TAC” – “Training, Advising, Counseling” – officer, according to the lawsuit filed Oct. 13.

LeLand Allen is no longer employed by the Port of Seattle, which had hired him in 2018. An independent investigation conducted by Northwest Workplace Law, referenced in the complaint and obtained through public disclosure, concluded a “preponderance of the evidence supported the allegations.”

According to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, which oversees the academy and accredits law enforcement officers statewide, Allen is the subject of an ongoing decertification investigation.

The lawsuit describes the academy as operating in a “vertical structure,” like the military, and says recruits are expected to respect their TAC officer, including standing at attention when the officer enters a room.

“Questioning, responding, or reacting to statements or actions taken by TAC officers could be interpreted as signs of disrespect leading to failing the class and termination from the academy and agency employment,” the lawsuit explains.

In the complaint, Wagner alleges Allen approached her during a mock training scenario, placed his hands inside tears in her jeans and asked if his hands were cold. She claims he constantly subjected her to unwanted attention that made her “feel uncomfortable, upset and violated.”

Recruit Aimee Allen said her instructor told her she had “nice legs” while at a local gym, then asked the next day if she had a good workout, “tapped her butt in a scooping manner, and said, ‘atta girl,’” according to the lawsuit. Another recruit witnessed the latter incident, and Aimee Allen told several others immediately afterward, according to the independent investigation.

LeLand Allen, in an interview with an attorney from Northwest Workplace Law, said he could not recall the incident – and believes he would have, had it occurred.

Another recruit said Allen approached her in the academy cafeteria, inquired about her meal choice, put his hand on her shoulder and commented about her appearance, the lawsuit says.

Several of the cadets offered similar sentiments, claiming Allen looked at and commented on their bodies. Allen told the investigator he “maintained that it was necessary to look at recruits’ bodies for instructional reasons.”

Aimee Allen, who is not related to LeLand Allen, said the instructor told her she was “more like a niece to him,” according to the lawsuit.

The women who filed the complaint claim other female members of the class approached them and related other instances where they felt LeLand Allen had acted or spoken inappropriately.

The class, after discussing it with its elected officers, decided to hold off on reporting Allen’s behavior until after graduation so as not to invite retaliation, according to the lawsuit and the investigation conducted by Northwest Workplace Law. However, they approached academy officials as a group after Allen allegedly groped Wagner.

The investigation – which included accounts from 12 recruits and five officials at BLEA and the WSCJTC – recounts several other instances where cadets complained about Allen’s behavior. Several male cadets also expressed their concerns about the sexualized context of comments they witnessed or overheard, according to the investigation.

Allen denied any sexual context to his behavior and said his actions had been misunderstood or misinterpreted, according to the investigation.

The lawsuit, filed by Seattle attorney Karen Koehler, alleges violations of the Washington Law Against Discrimination, negligence, battery and negligent supervision. The defendants include the WSCJTC, the Port of Seattle Police Department and Allen.

Koehler explained that the result of the claims against the state defendants – WSCJTC and BLEA – likely will depend on a ruling in a case pending before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, challenging whether Washington law grants qualified immunity to those agencies in such circumstances.

A federal judge in a case involving a Spokane County deputy suing the academy said state law does not grant qualified immunity in such instances. The state appealed to the 9th Circuit, which, in turn, has asked the Washington Supreme Court to clarify the statute. A ruling is pending.

“The plaintiffs are strong women who signed up for tough jobs,” Koehler said in a statement. “Nothing prepared them for the shock and trauma of being sexually harassed and demeaned by their Basic Law Enforcement Academy training officer. The system failed to protect or support them. So now they are seeking help through the courts.”