Mesa SWAT Officer Jeffrey Neese

Mesa SWAT Officer Jeffrey Neese has been demoted and assigned to home duty as a result of numerous allegations of sexual harassment filed by female officers. (Special to the Tribune)

Amanda Cook had been a Mesa Police Department patrol officer for only two years when she was called to a scene in March 2018 that she says changed her life forever. 

The call was to follow up on a criminal case that several SWAT officers were working on, and when she was required to contact their supervisor, Sgt. Jeffrey Neese, she used her personal cell phone because she had not yet been issued a business phone. 

Within 30 minutes of the call, she received text messages from Neese’s own personal number. 

In one message, the sergeant wrote, “You’re the best. Thnx for the hug the other day too. I loved it!!” 

Feeling awkward and uncomfortable, Cook responded with “anytime” in an attempt to end the conversation. 

Neese then explained how he had “something more to think about in private moments,” accompanied by a winking emoji. 

The sexual texts to Cook continued for several days after, according to a notice of claim, in which Neese repeatedly described a sex act.

The sergeant is now the target of a $1 million claim over sexual harassment and has been placed on home duty after six female Mesa officers — including Cook — and one male officer accused him of inappropriate behavior. 

“The City of Mesa and Mesa Police Department are committed to providing a workplace that is free from sexual and workplace harassment as this type of conduct is not, and will not, be tolerated,” the city said in a release last Tuesday. 

During a press conference July 18, the claimants said they are seeking $150,000 per person from the city for failing to “properly” investigate and discipline Neese — despite its zero-tolerance policy — for sending graphic sexual text messages and explicit sketches.

Two more women not affiliated with Mesa Police came forward a day after the conference. 

While Neese has been placed on paid home duty, the accusers’ lawyer, David Lunn, said it’s not enough. 

“[The decision] comes far too late to remedy the hostile work environment that several officers have felt for the last nine months. We still don’t understand why he’s being paid while on home duty,” he said, adding:

“It begs the question of if the City was aware of Neese’s predatory behavior prior to these officers coming forward.”

Neese’s sexual harassment dates back to at least 2014, when he sent inappropriate sexual messages to Officer Cindy Martinez, according to the complaint.

After dropping Martinez off at her home, he once told her that he wished she invited him inside because he wanted “a little more.” 

Martinez ignored the message, but that didn’t deter him from telling her he wanted her to ride on his motorcycle with her on the front. 

In fall 2015, Neese asked officers Elsie Keim, Christen Rope and Elisha Gibbs to send him a picture of the three of them so that he could draw them as superheroes, according to the claim.

The sergeant then proceeded to draw the officers naked, sending them a photo of the final product. 

Keim told investigators that she felt deeply “disturbed and disgusted” when she saw the drawing.

Neese regularly sent Gibbs messages chronicling how he pleasured himself while thinking about her. 

In one text, he said that “The third time I was just thinking of [you] watching me” commit a sex act “and it was intense.”

In August 2017, Neese told Officer Ashley Elliff that he “entertained” himself to her image. 

Elliff said she felt “horrified,” according to public records, considering she had known Neese on a professional level for several years. 

In the last week of July 2018, Elliff, Gibbs and Rope went on a vacation together in California. 

Gibbs mentioned that she had received “disturbing” texts from Neese. 

Elliff also confided that she received similar texts, but said she was too embarrassed to tell anyone. 

The women decided to reach out to Martinez and Keim because they thought they might also be victims. 

The five officers ultimately decided to report Neese’s habitual harassment to the city Human Resources Department. 

After conducting an investigation on Oct. 30 2018, the HR department sustained four allegations of misconduct by Neese. 

“Although it may have not been his intention to do so, his actions did create a hostile work environment,” the investigation stated. 

The sergeant was removed from the SWAT squad, but was able to keep his title and was required to do 50 hours of unpaid leave. 

But before his punishment could be carried out, Officer Amanda Cook, came forward.

Neese denied sending Cook any explicit messages, and claimed that they were fabricated to set him up. 

“I have no memory of these text messages at all,” Neese told investigators. “It’s very easy to change a person’s contact information.” 

After Cook gave up her phone to forensics, investigators determined that the texts from Neese were real.

In May 2019, the department issued another finding that Neese sent Cook unwelcome and offensive text messages.

Using the two investigations as guidelines, Neese was demoted from sergeant to patrol officer — a move that continued to perpetuate a “hostile work environment,” said Lunn.

The six female officers decided to file a notice of claim on July 18 in response to the city’s “failure” to take their complaints seriously. 

“Because of the City’s inadequate remedial action, Claimants will suffer anxiety, concern, apprehension, trepidation, dread and even fear that they will end up working with officer Neese,” the claim states.  

Since the public announcement of the claim, two more women have come forward.

Neese has now been reassigned to his home while the latest allegations are being investigated, according to a statement from the city. 

The city has 60 days to respond to the notice of claim. 

If it does not respond, the claimants have a year from the date they found about Neese’s demotion to file a lawsuit.

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