Accusations of Sexual Misconduct Roil Local CHP Ranks

Retired California Highway Patrol Lt. Kermit Edwards has been formally accused by female subordinates of egregious workplace misconduct  in Santa Clara and Alameda counties, according to a pair of civil lawsuits filed in January.

One complaint alleges that Edwards sexually harassed and sexually battered a female employee at a CHP facility in San Jose between 2017 and 2020. Another complaint, filed by the same law firm, alleges Edwards was transferred in 2020 to a facility in Fremont where he engaged in substantially similar behavior.

CHP leadership is alleged to have been aware of Edwards' history of sexual harassment prior to the violations of law alleged in both suits. According to the complaints, Edwards was transferred from workplace to workplace, effectively shielding him from the consequences of his actions.

A representative for the California Highway Patrol responded to news inquiries, providing dates of employment for Edwards, but declining to discuss pending litigation. Attorneys Daniel Hollingsworth and John Coniglio, who are representing two different Jane Does as plaintiffs, responded on behalf of their clients but also declined to comment on the record.

The court filings, however, are a matter of public record -- and they contain a litany of sexually charged quotes from Edwards -- all of which could be described as clearly inappropriate for work. Edwards is also alleged to have made inappropriate physical contact in at least one incident where he is accused of placing his hand on Jane Doe's upper thigh in a nonconsensual fashion.

During a phone call to Jane Doe, identified only as a resident of Santa Clara County, in October 2017, Edwards is alleged to have asked if she was, “having sexual relations with another co-worker, and asked if he ‘had a big dick.’ Defendant also threatened that anonymous letters would be sent to management about Plaintiff and the other co-worker he had inquired about,” the complaint alleges.

“Plaintiff told Defendant Edwards that he was scaring her, which he was. Defendant Edwards told Plaintiff not to tell anyone about the phone call. Out of fear, she refrained from reporting the incident or any of his sexual harassment to management,” according to the filing.

Attorneys for the plaintiff allege Edwards later accused Doe and one of her colleagues of running a side-business during work hours in at least two anonymous letters to CHP management: “The truth was that Plaintiff and her co-worker had attempted to start a private investigation business in their off hours. They had disclosed this business to CHP, and had filled out all appropriate forms and received approval from CHP.”

“Defendant Edwards did not stop his harassing behavior after sending the (first) anonymous letter. He informed Plaintiff that he was protected by Amanda Ray, who was upper management at CHP and would eventually become the Commissioner. Defendant Edwards showed Plaintiff that he had Amanda Ray's personal telephone number on his phone. This frightened Plaintiff further and caused her to refrain from disclosing Defendant Edward's harassment to any third parties,” Jane Doe's attorneys wrote.

Ray was promoted to CHP commissioner -- the statewide agency's top job and highest rank -- in November 2020, and held the post until December 2022. She was the first woman to do so, according to news releases from the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Roughly a year after Ray's promotion, Jane Doe was allegedly interrogated about accusations appearing in the anonymous letters referenced above. That investigation led to a 15-day suspension in May 2022 for accessing a confidential law enforcement database for personal reasons.

“The disciplinary response was extremely unusual, as other similar violations by other employees resulted in a suspension of one to three days,” Hollingsworth and Coniglio write in their complaint.

Doe’s attorneys also argue the disciplinary action itself was a violation of CHP policy, as the behavior in question happened between January and April 2021 -- and policy requires disciplinary actions be undertaken within one year of the alleged misconduct. Furthermore, they allege the CHP rescinded the disciplinary action in September 2022, although that claim could not be confirmed.

Through the course of the internal investigation, Doe reportedly informed CHP leadership of Edwards' alleged harassment, and her belief that he had sent the anonymous letters -- but he retired in March 2022 before he could be questioned, according to Doe's lawyers.

According to a second lawsuit filed in Alameda County, Edwards transferred to the Nimitz Commercial Vehicle Inspection Facility in Fremont around May 2020. The attorneys in the case of the second Jane Doe, identified for the purposes of this article only as a resident of Alameda County, say Edwards began sexually harassing their plaintiff within a month of taking the job.

“Despite knowledge of Edwards' history of harassing female CHP employees, CHP managers, including several of Edwards' supervisors and CHP upper-management, failed to take action against Edwards to protect such other employees,” Hollingsworth and Coniglio write in their client's complaint.

“During his tenure at the Nimitz Office, Edwards would often go behind Plaintiff's desk and stand close behind her when speaking with her, even though he could have sat facing her from across the desk. These encounters were so uncomfortable Plaintiff completely rearranged her office so that it was difficult for Edwards to actually get behind her desk. This did not stop him from persisting in the behavior,” Doe's lawsuit continues.

Between the two complaints in Santa Clara and Alameda counties, Edwards is accused of making more than 15 individual sexually explicit statements to the plaintiffs -- and explicitly propositioning one of them for sex.

Edwards was hired as a cadet in 2001 and became an officer in May 2001, according to a CHP representative. Payroll records publicly available through the nonprofit website Transparent California indicate he was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant in 2016. He appears to have held that rank until his retirement in 2022.

Dave Brooksher is a reporter with Bay City News.

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