Okaloosa jail director's 3-day suspension 'wasn't enough' after sexual harassment, spanking complaints
Eric Esmond, the director of the Okaloosa County Department of Corrections, received a three-day suspension in November 2020 after violating rules of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The complaints against Esmond included him picking up and spanking a female employee, making comments concerning a female employee’s breasts, text messaging female employees about their personal lives — one testifying that he texted and asked “if she liked dark chocolate” — dancing behind a co-worker at a get-together with “the force of the thrust so hard that she fell over” and driving his official county vehicle to multiple bars or venues that served alcohol.
The report was based on interviews conducted with 13 employees at the Department of Corrections after two employees filed a complaint with the county's Human Resources Department on Oct. 16, 2020. The complaints spanned from 2017 to 2020, according to the report, and were reviewed by the Human Resources Department with assistance from the County Attorney’s Office.
A "report of inquiry" compiled by the investigators concluded that some of the matters raised consist of unverifiable “hearsay,” but that several allegations were “supported by credible evidence,” which led to the brief suspension.
County Administrator John Hofstad submitted the following statement in response to a Daily News request for comment on the situation:
“Okaloosa County is committed to providing employees with a workplace free of unlawful harassment. We maintain strict protocols established for reporting, investigating and resolving claims of harassment. Those protocols were followed in reviewing and addressing this matter.”
Female employees come forward
Kimberly Boddy, a former sergeant with the Corrections Department, was one of the female employees who filed a complaint. She left her job Feb. 3 after almost reaching her 14th work anniversary in May.
“I left because I was retaliated against after coming forward,” Boddy said. “The suspension wasn’t enough. You have officers that get wrote up for missing training, but you get a three-day suspension for sexual harassment.”
The inquiry report was made based on four days of recorded interviews with employees.
One female employee testified that Esmond “spanked her twice very quickly” and “held her on his shoulder for approximately two to three seconds,” according to the document. Esmond first denied picking her up and spanking her, but later said “it could have happened as part of playing around, but that he would not swat her on the butt,” according to the document.
The employee also testified that after putting her down, he made comments that appeared to be directed toward her breast augmentation procedure, such as “Oh, I didn’t think about you were probably still sore” and “How are the girls today?”
Esmond denied making any statements about her breasts.
A similar occurrence happened a few weeks later, according to the report. A fellow employee witnessed and confirmed both occurrences in a separate interview, but didn’t file a complaint upon the request of that female employee.
While the female employee told interviewers she found Esmond's comments offensive, she didn’t file a complaint until October because “she was afraid concerning her job,” according to the report. She came forward several months after because of “incidents that occurred to other women.”
Esmond testifies texts 'crossed the line'
Another female employee testified that she exchanged text messages with Esmond on matters of a “personal nature.” In them, he asked about her boyfriends and who she was dating, invited her to a strip club and asked “if she liked dark chocolate,” according to the report. Some of those text messages were deleted.
While text messaging later slowed down, she testified that his text messages to her and hers in response were “playful and flirtatious,” according to the report.
Esmond testified that “in hindsight,” some of the text messages were “inappropriate and crossed the line.” He also said he talked to male and female employees about their personal lives in a “caring and concerned manner.”
That same employee testified while they were in the booking room with other officers, Esmond asked “whether they would be wrestling later,” according to the report. Another female employee testified she overheard him say, “I am not going to give up on wrestling. We are going to wrestle sometime.”
'Remember, things can get twisted'
In another interview, a female employee testified she attended a get-together with co-workers at a co-worker’s home after the Mardi Gras Parade in February of 2019. There, Esmond got up to dance with her and “came up behind her and began to thrust his hips into her.” When she fell over, “everyone laughed.”
She testified that afterward, Esmond “came out to the back porch and asked her if she would like to kiss him,” she said no and “he leaned over and tried to kiss her.” Two other female employees joined them on the porch and Esmond “squeezed the three of them in a group hug.”
That same employee testified that in December 2019 or January 2020, Esmond called her about that event, saying something to the effect of, “I heard you were talking about it at the jail. Remember, things can get twisted and I am your supervisor and you work under me.”
Esmond first testified he had never been to a private residence of any employee, but later admitted he had been to that home on multiple occasions. He denied dancing with or kissing the employee.
The interviewers tried to contact the employee who hosted co-workers at her home repeatedly, but she did not return their calls, according to the report.
Esmond also admitted he had driven a county vehicle to bars, but did not consume alcohol, only food, according to the report.
While some of the complaints were unverified, the report concludes that the initial complaint of the female employee who was picked up, spanked on the butt and received comments about her breasts was supported by evidence.
The report also states that there is a line between “a genuine concern for the employees and inappropriate discussion concerning the personal details of their lives,” but that it does appear “this line was crossed on several occasions.”
In addition to the three-day suspension, Esmond was instructed to take harassment training, to conduct all county business from a county cellphone, to refrain from communicating with county employees on his personal phone and to avoid social interactions and relationships outside of work.