A West Fargo police officer has resigned in the face of allegations that he kissed and groped a female co-worker during what she described as an unwanted sexual encounter, according to West Fargo police records obtained by The Forum.
Officer Jorge Gonzalez came under scrutiny after visiting the woman’s apartment midday on Sept. 22 while he was off duty and she was on her lunch break.
Exactly what transpired in the apartment is unclear because Gonzalez and the woman, a police employee who’s not an officer, presented conflicting accounts during an internal investigation. Gonzalez maintains the encounter was consensual, while the woman says otherwise, police records show.
It’s the second time in 18 months that a West Fargo police officer has left the department under the cloud of sexual misconduct allegations. Both cases involved the same woman, Chief Mike Reitan said.
The woman was also sexually harassed by Kendall Zeeb, an officer who had been in a relationship with her, Reitan said. Zeeb was fired in May 2013 as a result of the harassment.
Reitan said that in both instances of sexual misconduct, the woman was not to blame.
“She is a very outgoing and cheerful person, and there’s nothing in her behavior that I have seen that would say that she is a person that is setting up these situations,” he said. “She’s the victim.”
The Forum is not identifying the woman because of the nature of the allegations.
Attempts to contact Gonzalez, who does not have a listed phone number, were unsuccessful. His attorney, Mark Friese, said he was unable to reach Gonzalez for permission to comment on his behalf.
It was Zeeb who first brought the Gonzalez investigation to The Forum’s attention this month. Zeeb had requested a copy of the investigation file from the city of West Fargo, and The Forum later got its own copy from the city.
Had Zeeb not requested the file when he did, the city would have destroyed it because the investigation ended with Gonzalez’s resignation and did not lead to discipline, according to city officials’ emails included in the file.
It is against state law to destroy records of active and ongoing civil and criminal investigations, but once a civil investigation is complete, that protection no longer applies, City Attorney John Shockley said in an email exchange with Reitan and other city officials.
There are different versions of the Sept. 22 encounter involving Gonzalez and the female police employee, according to an investigation done by the Cass County Sheriff’s Office.
According to Gonzalez:
He went to the woman’s apartment to see if she wanted to have lunch with him. She told him her lunch break was almost over and that she needed to go back to work.
She then asked if he wanted a tour of her apartment. During the tour, they started kissing and rubbing against each other. He touched one of her breasts over her clothing and asked to see her breasts.
The woman told Gonzalez, who’s married, that they probably should not be making out and that she needed to return to work. Gonzalez agreed, and he left.
According to the woman:
Gonzalez, who the woman said she considered a friend, arrived at her home unannounced, and she told him she had to go back to work.
She said she needed to close the door so the cats in the apartment would not sneak out. Gonzalez then stepped inside, closed the door and removed his shoes. She told him he didn’t need to take off his shoes and repeated that she had to get back to work.
Gonzalez confessed that he had liked her for the last five years, which made her anxious. A short time later, Gonzalez walked toward her, took her wrists and put her arms against a wall.
“This isn’t a traffic stop,” she told him. “I don’t understand why you are being this obnoxious.”
Gonzalez then took her shoulders, pressed her against another wall and started kissing her neck. He touched her chest, and she crossed her arms in front of her. He then asked to see her breasts, and she said no.
She told him he needed to leave, and he started to walk away, then came back, put his hands on either side of her face and kissed her.
“Someday it will happen,” he told her before leaving. And she replied, “No, no day will it happen.”
About two weeks after the encounter between Gonzalez and the woman, she told a civilian co-worker about what happened, and the co-worker alerted two West Fargo police officers who reported the matter to a supervisor, police records show.
This led to an internal investigation done by Sgt. Gail Wischmann of the Cass County Sheriff’s Department.
Wischmann interviewed the woman and other West Fargo police employees who revealed that Gonzalez had made several sexual comments to the woman and other co-workers in the past.
Gonzalez, however, denied making any inappropriate comments, according to police records.
He was placed on paid administrative leave Oct. 13. Wischmann interviewed him Oct. 16, and he resigned the next day, ending a five-year run with the department, records show.
Reitan said the woman has chosen not to pursue criminal charges against Gonzalez.
The chief said his department takes a zero-tolerance stance toward sexual harassment and that employees receive yearly training on how to identify such harassment and report it. He said he believes the department’s policies and training are adequate.
“We don’t have an issue with the other 50-some employees that we have,” he said. “It was an individual that chose to behave poorly.”