URBANA — A veteran University of Illinois police officer has been placed on administrative leave after another accuser came forward with complaints of sexual harassment dating back four years, UI officials have confirmed.
Officer Brian Tison was placed on leave effective Aug. 5 after the department learned of new allegations regarding his conduct in 2015 and 2018, according to police Chief Craig Stone.
The accusations are separate from other complaints filed against Tison earlier this year that are still being investigated by an outside attorney, and from a 2017-18 sexual-misconduct investigation prompted by complaints from a female officer trained by Tison, officials said.
In a statement, Stone said he could not provide further details because it is a personnel matter, but he said the latest complaint is under formal review by the department and by the UI office that investigates Title IX sexual-harassment allegations, the Office of Access and Equity.
“The safety and security of the campus community remains paramount, and all of the University of Illinois Police Department’s practices and policies are developed with that in mind. All applicable university processes were initiated when the department learned of this new allegation,” Stone said.
The initial 2017-18 inquiry, reported by News-Gazette Media last fall, was launched after a female officer filed a formal complaint about Tison’s conduct toward her and other women in the department over several years, including while they were recruits under his training. She and several unnamed witnesses quoted in the report accused Tison of unwanted hugs, touching and suggestive remarks on the job.
No longer supervising
In her July 2018 report, the UI’s Title IX investigator concluded that Tison’s behavior toward the officer did not violate the standards of the campus sexual-misconduct policy, as it wasn’t severe or pervasive enough to impede her job performance or create a hostile work environment and wasn’t clearly targeted only at women. (That strict standard for sexual harassment, based on legal definitions, is under review by the campus.)
But the investigator did call Tison’s behavior unprofessional and “highly inappropriate” and chided the police department for failing to stop it. Witnesses reported there had been multiple conversations with Tison about his behavior, with one administrator calling it “a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
The investigator recommended that the report be placed in Tison’s file, along with a letter ordering that he immediately discontinue that behavior.
Stone, police chief since June 2018, has said he followed those recommendations and took unspecified corrective action against Tison under the terms of the police union agreement. Tison stopped supervising recruits in July 2018.
But some department officers felt stronger action was warranted.
Last fall, Chancellor Robert Jones and Stone met with some of the female officers to discuss how to address their concerns. Administrators encouraged the women to report any allegations to the Office of Access and Equity and offered to help, according to a UI spokeswoman.
That led a female staff member to file a complaint in January, according to UI officials and documents obtained through an open records request
And the university filed a complaint on behalf of four officers in the department who were reluctant to file for themselves, UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler told News-Gazette Media earlier this summer. She said the complaints involved incidents brought to light during the 2017-18 sexual-harassment investigation.
UI: Investigation ongoing
An outside attorney was hired to investigate those allegations because the Office of Access and Equity was short-staffed, Kaler said.
A university official said Tuesday that investigation is not yet complete.
Tison did not respond to a News-Gazette Media email about the latest complaints.
Last fall, he declined to comment on specific details of the original complaint but noted the investigator had found he did not violate the sexual-misconduct policy. He also said at the time that only one officer had filed a complaint against him.
In the 2017-18 report, Tison had told investigators that he considered the female officer a friend and never realized she was uncomfortable with him. He said that his actions were consistent with how he treats other officers, male and female, and that he had told her from the start he was “a touchy-feely person who likes to hug,” and she didn’t object.
But the officer reported that she didn’t object at the time because she felt vulnerable as a new recruit. She did share her discomfort with other officers, and her allegations only came to light when one of those male colleagues reported them in an exit interview.
Under the labor agreement with the police union, any disciplinary action against officers must follow a “performance partnership program.” It’s designed to recognize good performance and correct problems through informal supervisory discussions and, where appropriate, formal corrective steps.
Those progressive steps include a “work performance reminder,” a written reminder, “decision-making leave,” and finally, discharge.