MESA, Ariz. - After lewd text messages suggesting masturbation and a picture drawn of officers nude, seven Mesa police officers have taken the first step toward a potential lawsuit against the city for sexual harassment.
Six female officers claim the same supervisor, sergeant Jeffery Neese, sexually harassed them over years. One other officer is suing after he claims his wife was sexually harassed by the same sergeant.
The notice of claim scheduled to be filed Thursday includes text messages attributed to Sgt. Jeffrey Neese, who used to be a head of Mesa’s SWAT team. Records show he was hired back in 1999, making a salary of more than $100,000 with overtime.
The notice of claim contains text messages where Neese tells officers about masturbating. In one instance he drew a picture of three officers topless and sent it to the officers involved.
In the investigation into sexual harassment complaints, the sergeant admitted to drawing the picture but said they asked him to. The women in the picture denied asking to be drawn naked. Instead, they said Neese asked them for a picture so he could make them look like superheroes.
"I was hired for this job for my morals, integrity and work ethic," said Ashley Elliff, one of the claimants willing to be identified. Elliff has been a police officer and detective with Mesa PD for the past 11 years.
"My skin is not thin, yet I was at a loss for words when I saw the messages that evening," she said.
Officer Elliff said one day in August of 2017, two hours after she talked with sergeant Neese, she started to receive unwanted sexual text messages on how he was masturbating.
"Not only did he disrespect me by sending the messages, he disrespected my husband and my family," Officer Elliff said.
"His behavior went unchecked for years. This was not a one-time incident. This was multiple incidents over a span of time."
Officer Elisha Gibbs also is also a part of the notice of claim.
“He began texting me and telling me how he 'entertains himself' to the thought of me and my wife making out,” Gibbs said.
Texts provided in the notice of claim show the lewd wording.
As typical in messages sent by Neese to the women, according to the claim, Neese would follow with some sort of apology, in this case saying “I give too many details. Sorry.”
Officer Gibbs said she did immediately not report the harassment because of Neese's status.
“He is the head to a very elite team, the SWAT team, and has a lot of influence over a lot of people,” Gibbs said.
Officer Amanda Cook also shared her story on Thursday. She said within 30 minutes of contacting Sergeant Neese on official police business, he began to harass her.
“I was shocked, I was appalled, and I was disgusted.” Cook said.
According to the notice of claim, Sgt. Neese would send messages including emojis that seemed to indicate masturbation. Other texts include references to self-pleasure, including one text which said “I only like sleep after an orgasm. Then I sleep good.”
According to reports laid out in the notice of claim, Sgt. Neese denied ever sending those texts to officer Cook. However, during the harassment investigation, an independent third party reported they saw no evidence of the messages being faked.
The report concluded that Sgt. Neese either honestly did not remember sending the text messages or fabricated the story.
Four of the harassment claims made against Sgt. Neese were substantiated in an initial investigation carried out in 2018. As a result, Sgt. Neese would keep his rank but no longer be a part of the SWAT team.
"Why have we come forward? Nothing had changed. Keeping him as a supervisor, let alone an officer, did not seem to weigh on the city's mind as he had on ours," Elliff said.
Officer Cook would issue her sexual harassment complaint in 2019. As a result of a second substantiated sexual harassment complaint, Sgt. Neese was demoted last week to a patrol officer.
Each officer involved in the notice of claim is seeking $150,000 in damages.
We reached out to the City of Mesa and the Mesa Police Department, but they do not comment on pending litigation.