TUPELO • The city of Tupelo, a former police officer and a former police department employee settled a federal sexual harassment lawsuit last week that alleged a “culture of illicit sexual relationships” and harassment within the department.
“The parties came to a mutual agreement that it would be better to resolve this at the beginning, rather than go through a lengthy discovery,” said attorney Christi McCoy, who represented Lara Mansell. McCoy could not reveal the terms of the settlement or if any money exchanged hands.
In the lawsuit filed in January in U.S. District Court in Aberdeen, Mansell said she was sexually harassed or propositioned by several superiors, pressured into an affair with a married officer, assaulted by the man’s wife and intimidated into silence. Through her attorney, Mansell named the Tupelo Police Department and former officer Chamila Brown as defendants.
The case was assigned to Judge Sharion Aycock but a trial date had not been set. The defendants filed separate motions in late March and early April to dismiss the lawsuit. The motions argued the case should be dismissed because it is past the statute of limitations.
Federal discrimination claims have to be filed within 180 days of the act. Mansell alleged the incidents happened in 2016 but she did not start to file suit until October 2019 when she filed her discrimination charge. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission denied the charge because she waited too long. Other reasons cited to dismiss the lawsuit include suing the wrong entity and not specifying why the city is liable.
In the lawsuit, Mansell said while she was an administrative assistant at the North Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Center in April 2016, she was forced into a sexual affair with her supervisor, Lt. Brian Brown.
Mansell claimed that Chamila Brown, Brian Brown’s wife and a TPD officer herself at the time, showed up at her residence one night in October 2016 banging on doors and windows with a police baton. When Mansell opened the door, Chamila Brown forced her way inside and assaulted Mansell.
She alleged the department covered up the situation telling her to keep quiet, which she did. When the matter resurfaced about two years later, both Brian Brown and Chamila Brown were forced to resign.
The lawsuit asked for unspecified damages including back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages as well as costs and attorney fees.
Aycock’s order signed May 12 dismissed the case without prejudice, which means the case could be brought back up at a later date.