An ex-convict facing a return to state prison is planning to file a $1 million lawsuit against the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department and Undersheriff Andrew R. Neff, claiming the undersheriff sent her unwanted photos of a mans genitals from his county-issued phone.
Michele R. Bowens, 42, Adams Center, has hired Sackets Harbor attorney Charu Narang to represent her in what Ms. Narang said will be a federal lawsuit alleging harassment, sexual harassment and police misconduct.
Ms. Narang has filed two state Supreme Court suits recently against the department and Detective Steven C. Cote, claiming in one that the detective took now-missing topless photos of a female deputy as part of an online pedophile investigation and that the detective defamed a woman, also a convicted felon, in the second.
Ms. Bowens claims that she was involved in a relationship with Mr. Neff more than five years ago when he was a member of the Metro-Jefferson Drug Task Force and she was a cooperating informant working with the force. The alleged relationship had ended by December 2007, when Ms. Bowens was sentenced in County Court to 1½ to 3 years in prison for a fourth-degree grand larceny conviction for her participation in a shoplifting ring that victimized Walmart. She was released from prison in September 2008.
On Oct. 3, an indictment was handed up charging her with three counts each of second-degree forgery, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and petit larceny and a single count of fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property. It is alleged that twice on April 17, she completed a refund at an unidentified McDonalds by signing fictitious names to receipts to obtain refunds of $28.06 and $28.27 to which she was not entitled. It further is alleged that she did the same thing the following day to obtain $31.93 unlawfully. The charges remain pending. Ms. Narang said prosecutors have offered Ms. Bowens a plea agreement that would carry a 1½- to 3-year sentence.
Ms. Bowens claims that when the indictment appeared Oct. 4 in the Times, Mr. Neff texted her to ask about it after several years without contact. She claims that he offered to intercede on her behalf with the district attorneys office regarding the latest charges in exchange for sexual favors. Later that day, Mr. Neff allegedly sent her a photo of a penis, which Ms. Bowens claims is his own, from his work phone issued by the county.
I did not ask for these pictures, Ms. Bowens said. I was appalled that he was sending them to me.
Text messages provided to the Times by Ms. Bowens show only Mr. Neffs alleged messages to her from Oct. 4 to 19, not her responses to him. Ms. Bowens denies that she sent any messages that could be interpreted as an invitation to receive the pictures. Mr. Neff declined to comment. Sheriff John P. Burns learned of the allegations Monday and is investigating them.
A situation has occurred in the sheriffs office. It is a personnel issue and I will be looking into it, Sheriff Burns said.
Ms. Bowens claims that on Sunday, she sent Mr. Neff a text asking him not to text her any more and he responded by sending another photo of a mans genitals.
Ms. Narang said she questions whether a double standard exists for the departments administrators and deputies. She is representing Raven C. Carreira, a Watertown woman who claims Detective Cote defamed her by telling a woman that Miss Carreira had put a threat out against Miss Carreiras former boyfriend, Deputy James J. Randall. Miss Carreira is a convicted felon and Deputy Randall had been warned that having a relationship with her violated the departments policy against consorting with a known criminal. When Sheriff Burns learned the relationship had been renewed, Deputy Randall was suspended for 60 days.
The hypocrisy is really what tipped it for Michele, Ms. Narang said. The hypocrisy of someone in law enforcement, who is supposed to be protecting our community, exhibiting this type of behavior.
With pending criminal charges and a possible state prison sentence looming, Ms. Bowens said she felt that Mr. Neff had power over her and was wielding it in an attempt to compel her into resuming a relationship.
I want to make sure that this doesnt happen to anyone else, any other convicted felon, that this doesnt happen again, Ms. Bowens said.
No lawsuit has been filed, but Ms. Narang said she is preparing action to be filed in either state Supreme or U.S. District Court. The county was served Tuesday with a notice of claim in the matter, which is a necessary precursor to any lawsuit against a municipality.
Ms. Narang also represents Krystal G. Rice, a deputy who claims that she signed a contract with the Sheriffs Department agreeing to pose for photos for use in an investigation, provided that the photos would be returned to her upon request. The photos allegedly no longer can be accounted for, and Ms. Rice claims the contract, which also cannot be located, called for her to receive $1 million per photo that came up missing. In all, her suit seeks $50 million from the county.