Earlier this month, former INDY Week editor-in-chief Jeff Billman profiled Wake DA Lorrin Freeman, one of the most powerful prosecutors in the state, for a piece that paints Freeman as reluctant to pursue charges against law enforcement officers who abuse their power.
A follow-up piece published yesterday suggests Freeman may also be reluctant to pursue disciplinary measures against her own fellow prosecutors—in this case, an assistant district attorney in her office who allegedly groped a colleague at a work conference outside of Wake County.
The colleague, also an assistant DA, reported her fellow prosecutor’s behavior to Freeman, but Freeman took no investigative or disciplinary action. In the earlier story, Freeman told Billman she thought the incident had taken place before she took office, and that she didn’t do anything about it because she thought the woman who reported it to her didn’t want her to. But it turns out the alleged incident happened in October 2015, ten months into Freeman’s tenure as DA. And, experts agree, as a manager, Freeman would have been obligated to, at minimum, conduct an investigation into what happened.
From the story:
Freeman, who is seeking her third term as arguably the most powerful district attorney in North Carolina, faces criminal defense attorney Damon Chetson in the May 17 Democratic primary.
In an interview, she pointed out that the woman has supported her politically. If she was upset, Freeman said, “I don’t see how she would continue to be an ardent supporter of mine.”
But under federal civil rights law, what Freeman thought the woman wanted was irrelevant, five experts on employment law told The Assembly. While Freeman might not have needed to act as a prosecutor, she did need to take action as a manager, they said.
“An employer is required to take action in investigating a harassment complaint even if the person who reported it does not want an investigation to happen or have any action taken,” former Georgetown University law professor Chai Feldblum wrote in an email. From 2010 to 2019, Feldblum was a member of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal antidiscrimination laws.
It’s not just about responding to the concerns of one person, said John Clune, a Colorado attorney who specializes in sexual harassment and assault litigation. By not acting, he said, “you may be subjecting other employees in your office to similar behavior.”
The two assistant district attorneys involved no longer work in their roles with the county. For what it’s worth, the woman who reported the incident to Freeman declined to criticize her former boss and agrees Freeman’s memory is likely hazy on when the alleged incident took place. But here’s what else the woman has to say:
Because the alleged assault took place outside of Wake County, Freeman did not have criminal jurisdiction. And the woman told The Assembly that at the time, she did not have the “emotional capacity” to file charges against her alleged assailant, whom she had previously considered a work friend.
“[He] had a lot of social and professional influence, and I was afraid that I would be isolated socially and professionally by my peers,” she wrote. “I desperately needed my job, and I could not risk professional exclusion. The legal community is small. As someone who advocated for victims, I knew how difficult it would be if I drew attention to myself by filing charges.”
While the woman told a few close friends and family members that she’d been assaulted, she initially did not inform anyone at the district attorney’s office. (In addition to the two sources who said the woman told them about the alleged assault, The Assembly has obtained emails from 2017 in which the woman discussed the incident.) Over time, though, she said the secrecy wore on her mental health, which affected her job performance.
“I felt like a failure as a lawyer,” she wrote, “because I didn’t understand how I could possibly advocate for other women when I could not advocate for myself.”
Instead of filing charges, the woman wrote, “I informed Ms. Freeman the assault occurred in 2015 while she was in office.”
Though that contradicts what Freeman told The Assembly previously, the woman said she doesn’t think Freeman lied but rather “may not have recalled when the incident occurred.” She said that in her experience, Freeman is “always truthful and has a reputation for honesty.”
She also said Freeman did not ask her for evidence of the alleged assault.
“I believe she believed me because Ms. Freeman said that she hoped the perpetrator would end this type of conduct due to his status as a new father,” she wrote.
The woman said she disclosed the battery to Freeman because her alleged assailant—whom the email does not name—aspired to become a judge, and she believed Freeman would use her influence to prevent him from obtaining a judicial appointment “due to her steadfast commitment to protecting female victims of crime.”
“This belief contributes to the reasons I have supported Ms. Freeman since I left her office,” she wrote.
That Freeman didn’t look into the allegations against her subordinate suggests a troubling culture in the DA’s office. Give the whole story a read over at The Assembly.
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