Investigator finds evidence of sexual harassment in SSU police case

Crime & Safety

A “preponderance of evidence” and “sufficiently sexual in nature” — those are the findings in an investigation into former law enforcement officials at Savannah State.

A Georgia Board of Regents investigator is weighing on a local sexual harassment case against Savannah State Police Chief James Barnwell and Sgt. Nathaniel Copeland.

Two female officers at the Savannah State University Department of Public Safety say they have been victims of sexual harassment. One case details a disturbing alleged sexual assault.

“Let me put a baby in your stomach,” said one of the illicit texts allegedly sent from Copeland’s phone to a subordinate officer at Savannah State.

Dozens of pages from the investigator detail claims against both Barnwell and Copeland by two female officers.

The reports extend over several months and range from touching one woman’s thighs multiple times and grabbing her buttocks to questions about “how many orgasms she’s had back to back” and text messages about asking for a “lap dance.”

The most damning: claims that back in 2016 as the officer was working during Hurricane Matthew, Barnwell came in the room she was sleeping, pulled down her pants and performed oral sex on her.

She says even though she continued to shake her head and verbally said “no,” he then put his hand into his own pants, grabbed his genitals and attempted to penetrate her.

This, she says, happened not once, but two consecutive nights.

Barnwell and Copeland have both denied all of the women’s claims of harassment and retaliation for not sleeping with the men.

Copeland told the investigator he “treated both like daughters” and “never expressed any sexual interest in them.”

One of the women started a relationship with Copeland’s son. That man has claimed that he sent the lewd text messages to the officer, not his father.

Each man said all of their interactions were strictly professional and any promotions, which the women said they held over their heads or held back, were just performance based.

Barnwell said terms such as “orgasm” are “not in his speech pattern.” He added that after 32 years with the Savannah Police Department, he wouldn’t “lose his mind” after a few months with Savannah State.

The female officer’s attorney says the two men were just using their positions for their own personal gain.

“It’s always about power and control and how can I force my desires and gain sexual favors from you,” said Attorney Abda Quillian.

The investigator could not find anyone who could back the claim of the sexual assault directly. The witnesses that she spoke to, as well as the other allegations, were enough to determine Barnwell and Copeland each violated the school’s sexual harassment policy.

Chief Barnwell was fired back in May. Copeland resigned “in lieu of termination” in August.

Lawsuits from both female officers are still possible against both Barnwell and Copeland and Savannah State.

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