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11:06 AM Sat, Nov. 17th

Johnson criticizes H.R. probe into sexual harassment

Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson has criticized an internal investigation that charged that he sexually harassed two former employees, and contends the Human Resources Department handled the womens' grievances in an "unprofessional and rather disturbing manner."

Human Resources Director Geoff Riches violated confidentiality, conducted the investigation in a "one-sided manner" and would not speak to a witness who would have refuted the harassment claims, Johnson charged in a three-page press release issued on Friday afternoon.

Johnson acknowledged having a relationship with former administrative assistant Marisa Bopp, but denied sexually harassing her and former office clerk Kelly McMahon, who filed separate grievances.

Riches defended the six-week investigation, and denied Johnson's allegation that he had violated the confidentiality of the probe by issuing statements to the press on almost a daily basis.

"I've been working in human resources for 30 years and was an investigator strictly for two years … so I certainly know how to do investigations," Riches said.

He said that before he issued a press release and documents to the media Thursday afternoon, he merely told the press that both women had filed grievances and updated reporters on when the Johnson probe would be wrapped up.

Johnson also released to the press a letter he sent to County Attorney Bill Ekstrom, dated Friday, in which the District 3 supervisor requested "a full and open hearing" on the investigation.

A day before, Riches released to the press letters, dated Thursday, that he sent to Bopp and McMahon that concluded Johnson violated the county's policy on sexual harassment by "specifically establishing and maintaining a hostile work environment."

The letters from Riches contain allegations that Johnson downloaded Internet pornography in the presence of female employees, made sexist comments, offered to expose himself and engaged in other inappropriate behavior.

Both Bopp and McMahon have been placed on paid administrative leave since Feb.

25 and will continue to get paid leave until they accept job transfers with county government or land jobs elsewhere.

Human resources may not take action against Johnson because as an elected official he is not covered by the merit rules (similar to U.S.

Civil Service policies), according to Riches.

He said he would send "the entire package" to Ekstrom, who in turn said on Thursday that he would ask an outside agency to determine what actions, if any, should be taken against Johnson.

While Johnson attacked the probe, County Manager Ron Walker issued a two-page press release Friday defending it.

"It is my reasonable opinion that the information collected in the grievance does substantiate the employees' administrative grievances and does document violations of County Merit Rules relating to sexual harassment and creation of a hostile work environment," Walker wrote.

Walker wrote that he concurs with the conclusions and recommendations of human resources, and he expressed a commitment to find other jobs for Bopp and McMahon.

However, Johnson wrote, "From start to finish, it has been clear to me that this was not going to be a full, fair and impartial investigation."

His press release sounded similar in language and content to an interview that Johnson's attorney, Rick Cohen of Phoenix, conducted with the Miner Thursday evening.

Johnson, who could not be reached for comment after he issued the press release, has said he is paying for Cohen out of his own pocket.

Johnson wrote that Riches did not want to speak to two witnesses because they were both viewed as friends and one did not work for the county.

At the same time, Riches "felt it was entirely appropriate" to speak to Bopp and McMahon, the mother and brother of one of the women (Bopp) and a former employee who had not worked in his Lake Havasu City office for a long period of time.

"To this date, Mr.

Riches has still chosen not to speak to one of the witnesses, despite the fact that he was advised that she has documented evidence, which would refute the harassment claims against me," Johnson wrote.

"As to the other witness we provided, he finally spoke to her for a matter of a few minutes, but never even asked her about the specific incidents which would reflect that sexual harassment did not occur."

Johnson wrote that 99 percent of Riches' reports "contain nothing more than the allegations that had been leveled against me.

There is no mention of any defenses that were presented or the evidence, which supports those defenses."

Without identifying her by name, Johnson wrote that he has known Bopp for 10 years and worked with her for five years.

"During the past two years and until very recently, we developed a consensual sexual relationship," he wrote.

"Looking back, it was not good judgment on my part to have a relationship with someone with whom I was working.

Our relationship, however, did not violate County policy."

Bopp could not be reached for comment.

The letter to her from Riches acknowledged that she had a relationship with Johnson but broke it off last spring.

Johnson wrote that he has documented evidence to confirm the relationship, vacationed with Bopp to Mexico and took a trip to California to visit Bopp and her family.

"I have documents in which she expressed her strong affection for me," Johnson wrote.

"Ironically, even after she filed her grievance against me, she called me and left a message on my answering machine that she just wanted to say hi and was sorry."

Johnson concluded, "At this point, I can only speculate as to why this investigation was conducted in the manner it was.

I do know, however, that there was no real effort to gather all the relevant information to get to the truth.

For that reason, I am asking the County Attorney to provide me with basic rights of due process and permit me to have a full, complete and public hearing at which all of the relevant evidence can be presented in the light of day.

I certainly hope and anticipate that Mr.

Eckstrom (sic) will provide that opportunity."

Ekstrom could not be reached for comment Friday.