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APNewsBreak: NYC police watchdog was rebuked for work jokes

NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s newly named top investigator of police misconduct was himself the subject of workplace complaints, accused among other things of making an inappropriate joke about a colleague’s backside and referring to an area where Hispanic employees sit as “el Barrio,” according to a confidential report obtained by The Associated Press.

Jonathan Darche, appointed last week as executive director of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, was accused of making the remarks in 2013 while deputy supervisor of a prosecution unit at the agency. The nine-page report substantiated some of the complaints, and he ultimately forfeited four vacation days and received management training.

Among the substantiated complaints: Darche, who is white, referred to cubicles where Hispanic employees sat as “el Barrio,” Spanish for neighborhood and an apparent reference to a Manhattan neighborhood with a large Latino population.

During an elevator ride months later, according to the report, Darche either touched or attempted to touch a male employee’s buttocks, then asked a woman standing next to him, “Why did you grab his ass?” the memo said.

In another incident, after a male employee jokingly asked Darche whether it was “casual Wednesday” because he was wearing a softball T-shirt, Darche responded with a crude reference to a sexual act, according to the report.

Two other substantiated complaints involved leaving an inappropriate phone message with a black employee and once suggesting he would give his children “black names” to help them get into college, the report found.

Darche, 44, didn’t respond to messages from the AP seeking comment. But according to the report he told investigators he had apologized for the “el Barrio” remark, hadn’t meant any harm by the elevator prank and only made the crude remark in response to the joke about his T-shirt because he was embarrassed by the attention.

He said the voicemail was a reference to a song by the artist Prince that wasn’t meant to offend the employee and said he didn’t recall the exact comments regarding the names, the report found.

The CCRB’s chair, Maya Wiley, said in a statement that she took the 2013 complaints into consideration when hiring Darche but that he had since proved himself to be a fair leader. “Mr. Darche took responsibility, was held accountable, and has demonstrated his commitment to our policies and staff,” she said.

Not all the employees named in the report were offended by Darche’s behavior and none of them made formal complaints. The investigation was instead initiated by a senior official in the office who heard about the incidents.

Nicole Junior, Darche’s former deputy, told the AP that while she was initially offended by the voicemail, she forgave Darche after he apologized directly to her.

And Alan Alvarez, a former CCRB prosecutor who was among the Hispanic workers sitting in the cubicles that Darche had called “el Barrio,” told the AP that he didn’t remember hearing him use that phrase. He called Darche a “very professional, very intelligent and very thorough individual.”

The CCRB, an independent agency, employs more than 100 investigators to look into allegations of police misconduct, pursuing cases ranging from excessive force to complaints about officers’ use of offensive language.

It has been mired in controversies in recent years. Darche is the third executive director in the last four years. His two predecessors both sued it. One claimed she was fired after blowing the whistle on sexual harassment allegations. That lawsuit was settled. The other alleged a previous board chairman had inappropriately called her a sexual word, an allegation he denied. That lawsuit was dropped.

In February, a low-level investigator resigned after being accused of revealing secret disciplinary records of the police officer who used a deadly chokehold on a Staten Island man in 2014.

Former employees say the turbulence in upper management is partly to blame for a culture of complaints at the agency, where young investigators challenge decisions and others document grievances big and small to leverage them for career advancement.

“It is demoralizing to try and do good work in that environment,” said Andrew Case, who served as the agency’s director of communications from 2001 to 2008.

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