Multiple women accused former Clark County 911 coordinator of sexual harassment

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Clark County 911 coordinator resigns after internal investigation

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Multiple women, who all work at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, accused Clark County’s former 911 coordinator of sexual harassment — both on and off duty — in an internal investigation that later led to the coordinator resigning.

Mike Combs, the 911 coordinator, denied all allegations made against him during the investigation, according to Clark County Sheriff’s Office documents obtained by the Springfield News-Sun.

Combs’ lawyer, Nathan Stuckey, said in a statement on Thursday that all allegations made against Combs were false.

“It is unfortunate that during an investigation, conducted by employees of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, false allegations were made against Mike. It soon became obvious that the environment within the organization was not the best fit for him moving forward,” Stuckey’s statement said. “With the community’s best interests in mind, Mike worked with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to provide for a fair and orderly conclusion to his employment.”

Combs resigned on Jan.3 after the investigation concluded and will remain on the payroll of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office on administrative leave until April 1, according to his resignation letter which was signed by Combs and Clark County Sheriff Deborah Burchett. Combs will also be paid for 480 vacation hours in a lump sum on April 10.

Read the first story: Clark County 911 coordinator resigns after internal investigation

Combs, a 20-year employee with the sheriff’s office, was in charge of overseeing the Clark County Dispatch Center as the county’s 911 coordinator at the time of his resignation.

The sheriff’s office launched an internal investigation into Combs on Oct. 15 after three members of the sheriff’s office filed formal complaints on Oct. 10 saying Combs had made derogatory statements about them, according to sheriff’s office documents.

The investigation lasted nearly three months and included interviews with 15 sheriff’s department staff. Interviews were conducted by Sgt. Denise Jones, Deputy Amanda Mitchell and Clark County Human Resources and Finances Manager Ben Hunt.

In the interviews, the women provided detailed accounts of incidents involving sexual harassment, however, it is unclear when some of these incidents may have occurred.

Afraid to speak

The first woman interviewed in the investigation accused Combs of sexually harassing her repeatedly, according to sheriff’s office documents on the investigation. The woman, who worked at the dispatch center with Combs, was asked in her interview if she had experienced any instances involving Combs that she felt were inappropriate.

The woman said she had and began to break down crying as she described an incident of alleged harassment, according to documents.

The woman said she did not want to talk about what she had been experiencing because “she doesn’t think it will help anything,” the documents said.

“She followed up by stating that Mike is in a position at the Sheriff’s Office where nothing really happens to him. She advised that he does what he wants when he wants to do it and she doesn’t feel like she is in a position where she can speak out,” the documents said.

The woman said she experienced both physical and verbal sexual harassment from Combs while she was at work, according to the documents. She said one day she was in her office cleaning her blinds when Combs walked in and smacked her on the butt hard, according to the documents.

Investigators asked the woman if she could tell them how many times she felt as though she was inappropriately touched by Combs. She said she could not put a number on it, the documents said. The woman said Combs frequently touched her hip/butt area around the office, the documents said.

“When asked if it was more times than she can count, she agreed,” the documents said.

The woman said Combs would, “make comments about her, about her butt, how she looks good in something that she is wearing,” the documents said.

The woman was also asked if she knew of other instances where Combs made similar statements to other employees. She said “yes”, according to the statements.

At the conclusion of her interview, the woman said the internal investigation “is something she is afraid to be involved in and that she hopes if there are other girls who have had these things happen to them that they will talk.”

“If (Combs) finds out that I just said what I said in here, I think it’s gonna be bad for me,” the woman said in the interview, according to the documents. “He just knows a lot of people and talks to a lot of people who make big decisions.”

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Openly discussed

Another woman who worked in the dispatch center with Combs, said he had also made, “comments of a sexual nature towards her while at work.”

“(The woman) advised that she would walk away or tell him to be quiet in a joking matter because she has concerns that if she had not done it in a joking manner, it would make things uncomfortable,” the documents said.

The woman advised that unlike the first woman, Combs had never touched her inappropriately at work. However, the woman said that another woman dispatch employee had come to her in confidence to discuss an incident with Combs, the documents said.

“(The woman) was asked about specifics and provided that no formal complaint was filed,” the documents said. “She advised that the information was openly discussed in dispatch, but not brought to her as a complaint.”

The woman followed up the statement about the complaint not being reported, by saying when she worked with Combs, “if she knows the girls are leaving the room by themselves she would ensure they had their cellphones with them,” according to the documents.

“When asked why she would do this she advised that she felt like the potential for him being inappropriate is there,” the documents said.

According to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office Communications Center Policy and Procedure, which was received and signed in 2018 by all of the women who accused Combs of sexual harassment, all complaints alleging sexual and unlawful harassment should be filed with the employee’s immediate supervisor.

“It is the responsibility of employees who witness potentially harassing behavior to report the situation,” the policy says. “There will not be retaliation against any employee for making a good faith report or for providing good faith information during an investigation.”

The policy goes on say: “Every employee is responsible for helping maintain a workplace free of discrimination and harassment and is responsible for reporting policy violations. Every supervisor is responsible for promptly responding to and reporting any verbal or written complaints and any suspected sexual harassment.”

Off-duty allegations

At least two women also accused Combs of inappropriate behavior while not at work. One woman said Combs tried to grab at her after she gave him a ride, the documents said.

On a weekend day during the summer about two years ago, the woman said she saw combs walking down the street “and he appeared to be unsteady,” the documents said.

“(The woman) advised that she pulled over and asked Mike if he was okay, and he replied with a statement to the effect that he could not recall where he parked his car,” the documents said.

The woman invited Combs into her car and offered him a ride to his car, the documents said.

“(The woman) advised once they arrived at the car she put her car in park thinking Mike would just get out, however, he reached over the center console and tried to touch/grab her,” the documents said. “(The woman) advised she told Mike no but he would not stop to the point where she pulled out her cellphone and informed Mike that she was going to call (her husband).”

Combs then exited the vehicle, the woman said, the documents said. The woman said she felt the touching/grabbing was an attempt to pull her in closer so Combs could kiss her, the documents said.

The woman did not say in her interview why she chose not to report the incident.

“(The woman) advised that there was no communication with her from Mike regarding the incident,” the documents said.

Another woman who worked with Combs said that at a bar in Springfield on New Year’s Eve “possibly going from 2016 to 2017,” Combs became aggressive and tried to kiss her, documents said.

“(The woman) advised that she tried to tell him no and turned away, and Mike walked off and started talking to other people.”

The woman said she was “too drunk to drive” so she decided to hang out at the bar to sober up, the documents said, that’s when Combs came back to her table.

“She is not completely sure what led up to it but Mike shoved his hands between her legs,” the documents said.

The woman said she slapped Combs’ hands away and “told him that wasn’t cool,” documents said. Since the event, the woman said, she has tried not to talk to Combs unless she absolutely has too.

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‘Wishes someone would have told him’

In Combs internal investigation interview, he denies ever smacking the woman’s butt, according to the documents.

“Mike followed up his statement by stating that he does not remember doing that,” the documents said.

Combs was asked about multiple situations involving touching the woman’s hip and/or butt area throughout the workday, to which he responded “they are friends and he may tap her to say something or tap her back,” according to documents.

Combs was asked why a dispatch employee would encourage her female dispatchers to take their phones with them if they are alone with him, according to the documents.

“Mike advised that he does not know why this would be happening and further advised that everything being presented to him was shocking,” sheriff’s office documents said. “Mike was asked if he has ever done anything that another employee could feel is inappropriate and he advised there was not and if he had done something he wishes someone would have told him.”

Stuckey, Combs lawyer, said in a statement Combs dedicated 20 years of service to Clark County.

“During that time, Mike served our community with compassion and was a leader within the organization focused on technology for public safety and our local first responders,” Stuckey’s statement said. “Mike is hopeful that he, and those remaining within the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, can move forward and focus on providing Clark County with the best public service it deserves.”

The Springfield News-Sun reached out to Burchett for comment on the department’s sexual harassment policy following Combs investigation and was told by Clark County Human Resources and Finances Manager Ben Hunt that he would be responding on the behalf of the Sheriff’s Office.

Hunt said in an email that the Sheriff’s office will not change its sexual harassment policy following the investigation into Combs.

When asked why he believes employees did not want to report allegations of sexual harassment because they felt it would not help, he said, “I think we can see this pattern all over the country.”

“My understanding is that there are often hurdles to overcome when bringing forward a claim of sexual harassment,” Hunt said.

Hunt said employees have also expressed concerns to him that their complaints could become public due to public records laws in Ohio.

“Any complaints or statements they would make would become matters of public record and may end up publicized in the media,” Hunt said.

The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering important issues in Clark and Champaign County.