Mayor Kenney: Sheriff Jewell Williams should step down amid claims of sexual harassment

Sheriff Sexual Harassment Allegations
Jewell Williams in Harrisburg in 2010, when he was a state representative.

Mayor Kenney said Thursday that Sheriff Jewell Williams should resign in the wake of reports that female employees are pursuing legal action after accusing him of workplace sexual harassment, and that a third woman received a $30,000 settlement in 2012 after suing him for sexual harassment when he was a state representative.

“I think he should step down,” the mayor said in an email to the Inquirer and Daily News. “Three women have come forward – and one was paid a significant sum to settle her claim just a few years ago.”

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Philadelphia Democrats was more cautious. “We’re just waiting to see what the allegations are,” said Brady. “It would be unfortunate if the allegations are true.”

He added that if they are true, Williams, a Democrat, should resign.

The Inquirer and Daily News reported last week that Vanessa Bines, 40, filed a federal lawsuit last month alleging that Williams and Deputy Sheriff Paris Washington harassed her with sexual come-ons and lewd remarks from 2013 to 2015; and later with retaliatory hostility after she filed complaints against them with city and federal equal employment offices.

The newspapers reported this week that former Sheriff’s Office employee Marlaina Williams, 34, has accused Williams of similar behavior, according to a complaint she filed this fall with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It alleges that Williams repeatedly harassed her from June 2013 until she left the office emotionally broken this June. Her lawyer said he expects to file a federal lawsuit on the matter.

The Sheriff’s Office issued a statement Thursday saying that the sheriff “categorically, and in the strongest possible fashion, denies each one” of the allegations by Bines and Williams, and that “Sheriff Williams is confident he will be completely vindicated.”

“The office has consistently and actively promoted changes in process and procedure, including the recent signing of the LGBT directives to ensure that all persons are treated fairly and have equal protection under the law,” the statement said.

The sheriff has declined to comment about the settlement of a 2011 lawsuit in which he was accused of engaging in similar misconduct while he was a state representative serving the 197th District in North Philadelphia. That suit, filed by former legislative assistant Karan M. Rogers, was settled in June 2012 for $30,000.

Camera icon File
Sheriff Jewell Williams during a ceremony honoring basketball legend Dawn Staley at Dobbins High School, in Philadelphia, on April 6, 2017

The Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women on Thursday called for Williams to step aside until an in-depth investigation is conducted into the allegations.

NOW’s request follows City Controller-elect Rebecca Rhynhart’s announcement this week that after taking office in January she would conduct a “detailed audit” of the Sheriff’s Office due to reported mismanagement and the sexual harassment allegations.

“This type of coordinated predatory behavior rarely happens once, and we must have answers on how many people were victimized through his positions of power over the entire length of is career,” NOW said in a statement. “During the years Jewell Williams sexually harassed his employees, he collected over $330,000 dollars from the citizens of Philadelphia and the utility of the entire department needs to be examined. We will not stand for this.”

Monique Howard, executive director of another group, Women Organized Against Rape, issued a statement Thursday encouraging women “who want to tell their truth” about experiences with Williams or other alleged abuse to call the organization’s 24-hour hotline at 215-985-3333.