In summer 2014, Hillary Bjorneboe was 25 and had just landed her dream job. The West High graduate had completed the police academy and been hired by the Bakersfield Police Department, fulfilling a dream she had since sixth grade.
But within six months, everything changed. Bjorneboe was eventually fired from her job and placed on a “do not hire” list for law enforcement, her attorney said Monday in opening arguments in a civil case that Bjorneboe, now 29 and living in Washington, has filed against the department and two officers.
The lawsuit names Bakersfield Police Department, the City of Bakersfield and officers Travis Brewer and Steven Glenn. The suit alleges Brewer and Glenn sexually harassed Bjorneboe, humiliated her and created a hostile work environment that ultimately led to retaliation against her and wrongful termination. The trial is expected to last a month and will feature testimony from former BPD Chief Greg Williamson and experts in police conduct and training.
“She was so embarrassed, disgraced and dispassioned, and completely unable to look at a single BPD car, that she moved to Washington state,” plaintiff’s attorney Allyson Thompson said during opening statements about Bjorneboe, who grew up in Bakersfield.
Bjorneboe appeared in court with her long blond hair pulled back in a French braid, wearing dark clothes and took the stand in the afternoon. She applied and was rejected for two law enforcement jobs since her firing, her attorney said, and is currently employed by UPS.
Arnold Anchordoquy, attorney for Steven Glenn, said during his opening statements that Bjorneboe was not a particularly good student in high school or college and she was equally lackluster as a police officer.
“She would have to be repeatedly told things. She was not catching on. She was struggling,” Anchordoquy said. Glenn and Brewer wanted her to succeed, he said, but instead she falsified a police report and only when she was concerned about losing her job did she raise claims of sexual harassment.
Glenn concedes he called her sweetheart, Anchordoquy said, but not in a belittling or condescending fashion.
“She was in tears and he wanted to comfort her,” he said.
Gabriel Godinez, the attorney for Brewer, told the jury during his opening statements that Bjorneboe never reported sexual harassment to her higher-ups at BPD and that the timeline of events outlined during the trial will be important to understanding the evidence.
The lawsuit also alleges that Glenn and Brewer told their trainee she was expected to sleep with their training officers, asked her if she was gay, questioned her dating life and called her a “whore.” It further alleges that Brewer ordered her to do things she felt were not right — like omit from a report a finding of marijuana on a suspect during a routine stop.
On the witness stand Monday afternoon, Bjorneboe talked about the time early in her training when everything changed between her and Brewer.
They arrested a suspect during their shift and shortly after she got home, a sergeant called her to say he was missing information on the arrest, she said. He asked if she had a copy of the arrest report, which she did because she had rewritten the report after discovering a spelling error and took the original home with her, she said.
The sergeant said he was coming to her house to get the report and specifically told her not to change or add anything to it, she testified.
After the call, she noticed she had missed calls and texts from Brewer. When she reached him, she said he was frantic that she alter the report before the sergeant arrived, and told her to grab a pen, write down what he told her and add it to the report.
Immediately after, the sergeant called her again and instructed her not to speak to Brewer until she was told it was OK.
Bjorneboe testified that she didn’t change the report since she was specifically instructed by the sergeant not to.
The next day, she said, Brewer’s demeanor toward her shifted dramatically. She said he instructed her to get into a patrol car where he screamed and yelled at her over the report.
“He said he was going to be a lot harder on me now. He said he wasn’t going to lose his job because of me,” Bjorneboe said.
Later that night, when Bjorneboe and Brewer responded to a local night club where a caller said a man had threatened patrons with a gun, Brewer sat in the patrol car on his phone as the bouncer pointed out the suspect, who was getting on a motorcycle, about to drive away. Bjorneboe said
“He did not care about our safety,” Bjorneboe said. “We had a potential suspect with a weapon who had threatened to shoot up that place and he did nothing.”
Bjorneboe’s complaint says the department previously received complaints about Brewer sexually harassing another woman. He was suspended without pay and eventually resigned, and was not in court Monday.
Glenn, who is still employed by BPD, was present.
Bjorneboe’s testimony is expected to continue Tuesday.
Bjorneboe seeks unspecified damages.