By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements orchestrated a female sergeant’s wrongful termination after he ignored her complaints of constantly being sexually harassed by male colleagues, including some of her supervisors, according to a federal lawsuit.
In her April 4 suit, Jessica Guasto alleges male cops openly made sexually explicit comments to her, viewed pornography on their personal cell phones in front of her, discussed penis enlargements and commented about other female supervisors being promoted due to exchanging sexual favors.
The alleged incidents occurred over several years until the end of 2020, when she was known by her maiden name, Salabarria. She is suing Clements, Miami Beach Police Lt. Steven Cosner and the city of Miami Beach for violating her civil rights, and for sexual discrimination and retaliation.
In phone interviews, Guasto described a toxic work environment that began early in her nine-year career when a sergeant was busted by Internal Affairs after driving through her neighborhood without her knowledge during his shifts on multiple occasions. Her dream job ended when Cosner, whose alleged romantic advances she rejected, initiated a trumped-up Internal Affairs investigation against her, Guasto said. Clements used the probe to justify firing her in January of last year, she added.
Both incidents are among the allegations in her lawsuit.
“They crucified me,” Guasto told Florida Bulldog. “There are a lot of dirty people in the department. If you stand up for yourself, you get gaslighted.”
Prior to her lawsuit, Guasto filed her third complaint against the city with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July. The EEOC closed its inquiry into Guasto’s claims on Jan. 3, according to a right-to-sue letter the federal agency sent her. The letter states, “The EEOC…makes no determination about whether further investigation would establish violations of the statute. This does not mean the claims have no merit.”
Reached on his cell phone on April 18, Clements declined comment and referred questions to the police department’s legal counsel, Miami Beach Senior Assistant City Attorney Mark Fishman. Fishman did not respond to a Florida Bulldog email and a phone message seeking comment. Miami Beach Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said the department is unable to comment on pending litigation.
‘HE WAS STALKING ME’
In September 2013, Miami Beach Police Internal Affairs detectives began investigating Sgt. Albert Estraviz for allegedly harassing Guasto. Even though Estraviz was not her supervisor and did not patrol the same area of the city she did, he would show up to calls she responded to, making her feel uncomfortable, according to a 24-page investigative report.
“He had an infatuation with me,” Guasto told Florida Bulldog. “He was stalking me.”
Investigators also interviewed one of Guasto’s neighbors, Luis Rodriguez, who gave a sworn statement about late one night seeing a Miami Beach Police Ford Explorer marked with the word “supervisor” on the side slowly drive by Guasto’s house, make a U-turn and creep past her home again, the report states. Rodriguez, who knew Guasto was a Miami Beach cop, said the SUV was “odd, different and out of place” because it never stopped to pull into her driveway, the report states.
Detectives also audited GPS travel logs for Estraviz’s vehicle which showed he had made 27 trips within five months to the area of Hialeah where Guasto resided while he was on duty, the report states. He was AWOL for a total of nearly 20 hours and three of his direct supervisors told Internal Affairs investigators that they did not know he had left Miami Beach city limits and they had not given him permission to do so.
When Estraviz gave a sworn statement, he claimed that he had developed a friendship with Guasto. Estraviz said the reason he drove by her house while he was on duty is because she had asked him to conduct wellness checks on her, the report states.
Guasto withdrew her harassment complaint before the Estraviz probe was completed, but Internal Affairs still substantiated that he violated police department policy by leaving his assigned area during work hours and for conduct unbecoming a police officer, according to the report.
In July 2014, the city’s Human Resources Department notified Estraviz that he was going to be fired, according to a six-page “intent to terminate” memo signed by then-Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates. Two months later, after Estraviz requested and got a pre-determination hearing, the city reversed its decision. Instead, he was suspended for 160 hours without pay, according to a September 2014 memo.
Estraviz subsequently resigned, Guasto said. Other male supervisors engaged in “victim shaming” her, she alleged. “They would say, ‘she probably asked for it,’ ‘she cost him his job,’ and ‘she should have stayed quiet,’” Guasto said. “That is when the hostility really started against me.”
GUASTO’S TOXIC SUPERVIVORS?
Throughout Guasto’s tenure with Miami Beach Police, various male cops sexually harassed her “to the point it was persistent, severe, and disruptive to her work,” her lawsuit states. Guasto recalled some of those encounters when she spoke to the Florida Bulldog.
For instance, a lieutenant once described in graphic detail the time he caught his wife having sex with another man in an attempt to give her advice about dealing with life’s tribulations, Guasto said. “He told me how he beat the shit out of the man, how the man’s penis was still erect and there was semen all over the place,” she said. “He told me, ‘Your stuff is not that bad. Get over it.’”
There was another lieutenant who told a co-worker that if she would meet him at a hotel and offer to have sex with him, he would do it, Guasto said. Cosner, the lieutenant she’s suing, pursued Guasto romantically and sent her an explicit greeting card showing a man exposing his penis to a woman, the lawsuit states.
At the time, she and Cosner were both rank-and-file officers, Guasto said. “I denied his advances,” she said. “When we both got promoted to sergeant [in 2017], he stopped talking to me. He was very angry and aggressive with me.”
Male supervisors would also chastise her because she “wasn’t being a team player” and because she “didn’t want to hang out with them,” Guasto said.
CHIEF TARGETS HER FOR TERMINATION
In 2019, the year Clements was promoted from deputy chief to the top cop role, Guasto began to fight back. She filed her first complaint with the EEOC. Guasto alleged the police department sexually discriminated against her when she was demoted from her sergeant’s position the year before, according to a June 22, 2021 EEOC form attached to her lawsuit filed by attorney Paul Daragjati.
Guasto was “inappropriately demoted” and the matter was resolved when she was reinstated to sergeant, the form states. However, the sexual harassment did not stop, she said. Guasto filed another EEOC complaint in July 2020 two months after Internal Affairs initiated an investigation against her for abandoning her post on multiple occasions when she was on duty.
The abuse had taken a toll on her and affected her ability to do her job, Guasto told Florida Bulldog. At times, she would take off from work with Nicholas Guasto, her then-boyfriend, now-husband who is also a Miami Beach police officer, when both of them were supposed to be on duty. Internal Affairs also opened a probe into Nicholas.
“I messed up by leaving the city,” Guasto said. “Sometimes, I would just sit in my car and cry. Other times, I was so depressed I came home. I tried to take accountability for my mistake, and they used that as a tool against me.”
At the time, Guasto asked representatives from the Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing the city’s rank-and-file, to assist her in reporting the harassment to Clements, her lawsuit states. But the chief allegedly did nothing to stop it.
Instead, Clements sought to use the Internal Affairs investigation against her and Nicholas as leverage to get her to drop her EEOC complaint, Guasto alleged. On Sept. 22, 2020, Clements allegedly had private conversations with Nicholas, telling him the only way to resolve the Internal Affairs investigation with minor disciplinary action was for her to withdraw her EEOC complaint, the lawsuit states. Two days later, Clements allegedly called Nicholas to chew him out because a private attorney defending the city in the EEOC complaint found out the chief had spoken to him in secret.
Clements wanted Nicholas to call the lawyer and “remove the implication that [the chief] was involved in pressuring [Guasto] to withdraw her EEOC complaint,” the lawsuit alleges.
On Nov. 2, 2020, Guasto attended a meeting with Clements, Deputy Chief Wayne Jones, Internal Affairs Cmdr. A.J. Prieto, the city’s private attorney and the city’s human resources director to presumably discuss her harassment complaints, the lawsuit states.
“It was an ambush,” Guasto told Florida Bulldog. “It was a bashing session with [Clements] telling me, ‘This department is not a good fit for you, you act like the victim and you are not a delicate little flower.’” Clements also allegedly told her the harassing behavior she described was “how cops behave.”
Guasto said Clements backed her into a corner, making her believe signing an onerous settlement agreement that required her to drop the EEOC complaint was the only way to stop him from firing her. Terms of the settlement, which is attached to the lawsuit, mandated Guasto serve a 160-hour suspension, pay the city back $3,531 for the hours she did not work but was on duty and sign a last chance agreement that stipulated she would be fired for any subsequent workplace violation.
In exchange, Clements was required to immediately meet with Guasto so she could provide him with the names of all the male officers who engaged in sexual harassment against her, the settlement agreement states. But it also put the onus on Guasto because if she refused to provide any names, it would be grounds for her immediate termination.
“He told me, ‘This is your only option,’” Guasto said. “If I didn’t sign it, he said he was going to fire me. So I signed it.”
Clements never met with her regarding her harassment allegations, Guasto added.
‘I KNOW WHY YOU ARE DOING IT’
On Dec. 27, 2020, Guasto returned to work for the first time since signing the settlement and last chance agreements. She was on the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift, plus a mandated overtime shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., her lawsuit states. Cosner, who was promoted to lieutenant the same day, was her overtime shift supervisor.
With the full knowledge that Guasto was an at-will employee who could be fired for any infraction, Cosner falsely accused her of failure to supervise, conduct unbecoming an officer, neglect of duty, insubordination, untruthfulness and failure to monitor her police radio, the lawsuit alleges. He allegedly claimed that Guasto failed to complete specific assignments he gave her at the beginning of the shift and was untruthful about not doing them.
“Right off the bat, he lied,” Guasto said. “He never spoke to me about anything. In fact, another lieutenant came up to me and told me, ‘Cosner doesn’t want to talk to you.’”
On Jan. 19, 2021, Guasto was summoned to the chief’s office for another meeting with Clements, the lawsuit states. Also in attendance: Cosner and Internal Affairs commander Prieto.
“They basically did an IA interrogation right there, asking me what I was doing that night [during the overtime shift],” Guasto said. “When I asked for my attorney and for my witnesses to be present, they denied me. I vaguely answered their questions because Prieto was there typing away on a computer.”
She confronted Cosner, Guasto said, telling him, “I know what you are doing here and why you are doing it. I have evidence of you sexually harassing me.” Clements interjected and allegedly told her, “We are not here for that,” and that she was a “problem employee,” Guasto said.
Six days later, Clements fired Guasto, the lawsuit states.