published Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Fort Oglethorpe ousts councilman Charles Sharrock after harassment claims

  • photo
    Jill Wynn becomes emotional while speaking about Fort Oglethorpe Councilman Charles Sharrock during a meeting of the Fort Oglethorpe City Council on Tuesday to hear allegations of sexual harassment that have been made against Sharrock. The council voted to oust Sharrock.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Fort Oglethorpe City Council threw out one of their own Tuesday afternoon after a four-hour hearing in which three female city employees testified Councilman Charles Sharrock squeezed, kissed and harassed them.

In a unanimous vote the all-male council voted out Sharrock, effective immediately. Afterward, several councilman said it was the hardest decision they ever made.

"I just felt like the evidence of the [women] outweighed the other," said Councilman Johnnie "Red" Smith. "All I can say is it was one of the hardest votes."

Testimony revealed Sharrock, a five-year city councilman, took sexual harassment training along with all city employees in 2008 after Jill Wynn complained she felt violated. She testified Sharrock continually sought her out for physical attention. On one occasion he came around her office desk to squeeze her tightly to his chest, which she interpreted as him trying to "cop a feel," she said.

After a second complaint that Sharrock hugged and kissed another employee on the neck, City Manager Ron Goulart warned Sharrock not to touch any female employees. But he was accused a third time by Detective Tammy Davis in October, a complaint that Goulart said prompted Tuesday's public hearing at City Hall.

Several of the women cried as they told the council members they didn't know what to do when the harassment continued, and they were worried they could lose their jobs if they spoke up.

"I didn't know it was my place" to complain, Wynn said.

Sharrock didn't deny most of the allegations. When asked about the most recent complaint from Davis and whether he kissed her near the neck, he said he might have.

"I'm such an outgoing, friendly person," Sharrock said. "I may have done something I didn't remember I did."

Sharrock's attorney Renzo Wiggins argued that because the three women didn't tell the councilman to his face to stop hugging, kissing or rubbing their backs, he wasn't responsible for changing his behavior.

"How would he know it was unwelcome?" Wiggins asked Davis. "I know how you feel, but my question is, what was his intent?"

But attorneys for the women pointed out that sexual harassment policies protect workers from a wide scope of unwanted practices, and it was obvious that kind of behavior was unacceptable.

"It was such a bizarre hearing. I felt like it was 1950," said McCracken Poston, Davis' attorney.

Councilman Louis Hamm said he knew there were allegations against Sharrock years ago but he didn't connect all the dots until now.

"Sometimes things are a little blurry," he said. "I can't say at this point if I did or didn't."

COMPLAINTS

On Oct. 9, Davis, a Fort Oglethorpe detective, said Sharrock approached her in the police department, put his arm around her and began rubbing up and down her back.

Davis had recently returned from a five-day suspension for wrecking her car. She said she had just found out Sharrock had defended her work performance before the council prior to her suspension.

After Davis told Sharrock she was fine, he laughed and said: "I don't know why, but I like this girl," and then kissed her on the jawbone.

Davis said she was disgusted and felt like it was an intimidating move. She said she immediately reported to her supervisor what happened, but since the complaint she has been afraid of repercussions.

"I perceived it as that was the consequence of him defending me, that I had to tolerate that behavior," she said.

But Sharrock said he was only trying to comfort Davis, and he didn't mean anything intimidating when he told her he liked her and squeezed her.

Wynn, a codes enforcement employee, also testified that she was afraid of what would happen if she reported Sharrock. She said she would try to avoid him whenever he came into the office.

But when Wiggins read her statement out loud, he pushed her to answer why she wrote that she believed Sharrock was trying to "cop a feel." Wiggins then read a definition of what he said that phrase means -- to caress someone in sexual places.

The half-full room of city employees, police and others began to buzz loudly at that explanation. Several women whispered that they were confused about what the phrase meant.

Sharrock sat still, smirking, as his attorney questioned Wynn.

After the vote, Sharrock declined to comment. His attorney said they would appeal the decision to Catoosa County Superior Court.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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