Lawsuits allege pattern of sexual misconduct by former Florence city manager at City Hall

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FLORENCE, Colo. (KRDO) – The current city clerk and a former city planning technician filed federal lawsuits this week, alleging that Florence city officials knew about sexual harassment and abuse by the police. former city manager and did not protect the employees.

The lawsuits against the City of Florence and former City Manager Michael Patterson were filed by Leventhal Lewis Kuhn Taylor Swan PC on behalf of City Clerk Jessica Hill and former City Planning Technician Shay Ardrey.

13 Investigations confirmed that the two women reported the allegations of sexual abuse and harassment to the Florence Police Department as part of its criminal investigation into Patterson. The criminal investigation led to Patterson’s arrest in November 2021. He currently faces charges of criminal harassment, unlawful sexual interference and supplying alcohol to a minor for his alleged behavior towards women who worked for him as mayor of Florence.

The City Clerk’s lawsuit says Patterson sexually assaulted her in his office in August 2021.

The former city planning technician’s lawsuit says Patterson repeatedly texted him sexually.

Hill’s and Ardrey’s lawsuits both allege that Florence’s current acting city manager, the acting director of human resources, knew about the alleged sexual misconduct for months but did nothing to help. women. The lawsuits also allege the current Florence police chief knew about Patterson’s “predatory behavior” for years but failed to intervene.

The federal claims indicate that the city knew of Patterson’s behavior before officials hired him. The lawsuit says that in 2008, when Patterson was city manager in Oregon, he was “charged with one count of fourth degree felony assault and one count of fourth degree minor assault against a woman with who he had a romantic relationship. Patterson pleaded guilty and instead of going to jail, he was ordered to complete an 18-month counseling program aimed at preventing domestic violence, according to The Oregonian newspaper.

The lawsuits detail a sexual harassment complaint the City of Florence settled in 2019 after the former city clerk came forward to report sexual harassment allegations against Patterson. The lawsuits also claim the former clerk was fired in retaliation for reporting the harassment.

“Even after the city became aware of Mr. Patterson’s practice of abusing women, the city did not implement any surveillance protocols on him in an attempt to prevent his predatory behavior. The city has allowed Mr. Patterson’s abusive behavior to continue,” Hill and Ardrey’s attorney wrote.

The women allege that Mr Patterson received no tangible adverse employment action following the settlement of the 2019 claim, but instead “was promoted, received pay raises and hidden benefits”. The victims’ lawyer says 13 Investigations these hidden perks included free city water and flexible vacations.

The lawsuit also calls into question the Florence City Council‘s statement that Patterson’s actions were deceptive and secretive. Patterson’s abuse took place during working hours at City Hall, according to federal claims.

Both women say Patterson frequently sent them inappropriate sexual messages, often talking about their appearance, his sexual fantasies and his desire to have sex with them.

Hill and Ardrey are suing the City of Florence for discrimination, sexual harassment, outrageous conduct/intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and negligent retention. Hill is also suing the city for retaliation and Patterson for civil assault, assault, libel and false imprisonment.

Attorney Andrew Swan released this statement to 13 Investigations about the cases of Hill and Ardrey:

“In our opinion, the Florence City Council and senior officials employed a predator as City Manager. They knew that Michael Patterson was abusing Florence employees. They could and should have stopped him. They refused. These two women felt compelled to bring Michael Patterson’s predatory misconduct and the city’s contempt for him where he should be – out in the open.

We believe it is long overdue for Florence City Council and senior officials to acknowledge that their apathy allowed Michael Patterson’s sexually abusive behavior to fester for many years. My clients and I hope that the government of Florence will finally right these wrongs and ensure that the predators are never in the pay of the City. Otherwise, we will hold them responsible.”

13 Investigations spoke by telephone with the mayor of Florence, Paul Villagrana, about the cases. Villagrana said he was unaware of the lawsuits, adding that a lot happened before he was elected mayor in November 2021. Villagrana was a member of council at the time the city settled the sexual harassment complaint of 2019 against Patterson. Villagrana resigned from the board in early 2020.

We also contacted all members of the city council, the city attorney, the acting city manager, the acting director of human resources and the chief of police for an interview. The acting city manager and director of human resources did not respond and no member of council provided comment.

Police Chief Shane Prickett responded to 13 Investigations late Friday night saying the allegations against him are false.

“Ms. Hill’s allegations about Patterson have been thoroughly investigated by Florence police detectives. Evidence gathered during the investigation eliminated the designation of Ms. Hill as a victim. I first learned of Ardrey’s allegation against Patterson when Hill told me the day she received the complaint. Ardrey never reported anything to me or my department regarding Patterson’s harassment prior to our criminal investigation,” Prickett said.

We also contacted Patterson through his criminal defense attorney. We haven’t had a response yet.

Patterson is expected to be back in Fremont County Court on Monday for a criminal hearing related to his November 2021 arrest.

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