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Woman at center of Lakeland police scandal comes forward | News

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Woman at center of Lakeland police scandal comes forward

Palm Harbor, FL --  It's probably been the worst kept secret in Lakeland.

The woman at the center of the police department's sex scandal came forward on Wednesday.

Susan Eberle's attorney in Palm Harbor spoke on the 37-year-old's behalf, calling it one of the worst case of sexual harassment he'd ever seen in his three decades of legal work.

"Sue Eberle was forced to work in an environment rife with sexual innuendo, sexual proposition, sexual advances and unwelcomed sexual assault and battery," said attorney David Linesch.

Eberle has reluctantly become the face of the sex scandal rocking the Lakeland Police department. With her husband Ed clutching her hand for support, Eberle decided to go public, announcing through her attorney that they had filed charges with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Florida Commission on Human rights.

The allegations include "false imprisonment, assault and battery as well as gross sexual harassment," said Linesch.
An FDLE investigation found that Eberle first had consensual sex with co-workers at Lakeland PD, but that the relationships became increasingly abusive.

Eberle told investigators she had been a victim of incest from the time she was a child, and thatshe felt she couldn't say "no."

"This obviously was exacerbated by the fact that the individuals engaging in this sexual harassment and assault toward her were sworn officers," said Linesch.

Police Chief Lisa Womack, who inherited the sex scandal, says her department is doing all it can to weed out the problem officers and supervisors. A dozen officers have left or resigned since Womack took over the two and half years ago.

Linesch says they've not yet filed suit against the department. They're willing to talk about reaching a financial settlement, he says.

"Or not. If not, we will do what we need to do."

From controversial bra-shaking during traffic stops to sex on the job, the culture at the Lakeland Police Department, they say, must change.

Residents call it an embarrassment. Susan Eberle calls it something far worse.

"She was a target. She was weak. And they knew that they could take advantage of that and so they preyed upon her. They preyed upon her and that's what's so sick about it," said Linesch.

Eberle says she's coming forward now so that this doesn't happen to anyone else in the future.

On Tuesday, the Polk County Legislative Delegation recommended Sheriff Grady Judd step in to make what they call the proper reforms.

Sheriff Judd declined an interview on Wednesday, but said he would make his agency available if needed.

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