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Updated at 10:05 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, with more information.

Chattanooga police officer Ricky Ballard was suspended earlier this month after an internal investigation determined that he was sexually harassing female cadets, internal affairs documents reveal.

The investigation, which started in June 2018, found "extensive evidence" of "a pattern of sexual harassment of female cadets," according to a statement of conclusion.

The harassment "spanned multiple academies and touched multiple cadets," several of whom stated "they did not want future cadets to experience what they experienced."

some text Ricky Ballard (Photo from Chattanooga Police Department)

As a result, Ballard was suspended on Feb. 1 for 160 hours without pay.

The investigation was sparked after two cadets filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment, citing multiple comments and actions by Ballard as evidence.

It found that Ballard's behavior made six female cadets from four different academies feel uncomfortable, and two individuals said they were afraid to be alone with him.

Many of the actions taken by Ballard, including giving unwanted hugs and offering free entry to Chattanooga Football Club games to multiple female cadets, were rewards for doing well during exercises, according to internal files.

A screenshot of a text message conversation was included in the file and showed one person saying Ballard had made unwelcome comments.

"Well I'm not saying s — —," one person's text read. "Obviously you know he said s — — to me just like he did you but I'm currently being screwed over by our dept for coming forward on something else. And was retaliated on so no thank you! Not saying I wouldn't mind seeing him gone but I'm done sticking my neck out and getting slapped."

Among the people who did come forward, one cadet told investigators she was at the Chattanooga Market when Ballard grabbed her by the arm and said, "By looking at you, I thought you'd be more muscular," documents show. Another cadet was also present and corroborated that claim.

In another instance, three cadets heard Ballard offer a class the opportunity to remove their shirts in order to cool off after a strenuous exercise in hot weather. Another instructor, who was also present, told Ballard to "not do that," documents show, but Ballard told him he'd made the offer to previous academies. However, investigators noted that cadets from academies in 2016 and 2017 did not confirm Ballard's claim.

Three other cadets told investigators they heard Ballard tell someone, "Bet that's not the only thing you put in your mouth" when the class was drinking water after another strenuous exercise.

Additionally, 10 individuals said they noticed Ballard being "easier" on female cadets and that he allowed the women to joke with him but not the men, investigators noted. And nine individuals said they considered Ballard's behavior to be flirtatious when dealing with female cadets.

Specific examples of flirtatious behavior included sending flowers to a cadet and hugging cadets. He also made a comment to another cadet suggesting her to "come over [redacted]," according to the investigative file. A female officer also told investigators that Ballard told her, "I was interested in you since I saw you in the gym."

The following are some of the specific actions and comments made by Ballard that were noted by human resources investigators:

* An officer said she heard Ballard say, "Damn girl, arch that back," while playing pool after work hours. Records weren't clear if the comment was directed to the reporting officer.

* An officer said Ballard told her he could "show you how to go black and not turn back" when she dyed her hair a darker color.

* An officer said Ballard told her, "When you come over don't wear that [redacted]" when she and a group of cadets offered to help him with groceries (he had a leg injury). The same officer also said Ballard asked her to wear yoga pants.

* An officer said Ballard took an apple from her hand as she was eating it, took a bite out of it, and returned it to her. She described the incident as "confusing" and "crossing the line." That same officer said Ballard sent her flowers while she was a cadet.

* An officer said Ballard "forced" her to drink alcoholic beverages by tipping her cup up. She told investigators that he said, "You're not drinking enough" and that he was "trying to get her drunk."

Ultimately, human resources investigators "confirm[ed] the validity of the sexual harassment claims" and made multiple recommendations for both Ballard and the department as a whole.

For Ballard, human resources recommended the 160-hour suspension, a last-chance agreement and required sexual harassment training. Ballard's disciplinary letter mentions both the suspension and training but does not mention a last-chance agreement, which would have put him on notice that future misconduct could result in immediate demotion or termination.

For the department, recommendations included adding questions specific to harassment and bullying in instructor evaluations, adding a female instructor to future academies, sexual harassment training to both instructors and cadets.

Ballard was the fifth Chattanooga police officer to be disciplined just this year. His suspension came after a string of firings and criminal investigations into two former police officers accused of rape and sexual battery.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.

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