Feedback: Woman Accuses Undersheriff Of Sexual Harassment
An Adams Center woman - who spent time in prison for her part in a shoplifting ring - has accused Jefferson County Undersheriff Andrew Neff of sexual harassment.
In a 'notice of claim' prepared by her lawyer, Michelle R. Bowens claims Neff told her "if she performed sexual favors for him, he would speak to the Jefferson County District Attorney's office on her behalf" about charges Bowens is facing.
The notice of claim states Neff "engaged in a pattern of verbal harassment...when she refused to meet him to perform sexual favors."
(A notice of claim is a legal document that preserves someone's right to sue.)
Reached on a cell phone number provided to 7 News by Bowens, Neff declined to comment and referred a reporter to the county attorney's office.
Sheriff John Burns told 7 News reporter Asa Stackel "It's an unfortunate situation. I'll look into it, and we'll go from there."
Bowens's notice of claim is for $1 million.
Bowens is represented by attorney Charu Narang, the same lawyer who is representing Jefferson County sheriff's deputy Krystal Rice, who has sued the department for $50 million, alleging sexual harassment.
According to the Watertown Times, Bowens served nine months in state prison in 2008 for grand larceny, and was indicted on 10 charges earlier this month. She allegedly stole money from a McDonald's restaurant by submitting forged reciepts for refunds, the newspaper reported.
In an interview with 7 News Monday, Bowens described a relationship with Neff that began in 2005, when she faced a charge of petit larceny, and the sheriff's department decided to use her as an informant.
She said the relationship "went on for a few months. Then it just stopped."
Then, earlier this month, Bowens claims Neff contacted her to tell her she had been indicted on the McDonalds theft charges.
When she refused his advances, Bowens claims, Neff told her "If I say anything to anyone about the pictures or the texts, that something's going to be done."
7 News reviewed scores of text messages Bowens claimed were from Neff, dated earlier this month. Among them was a picture of Neff.
The language of the texts is suggestive of a relationship in places, but difficult to fully make sense out of, since only Neff's half of the conversation is being shown.
A few are obscene, in both words and pictures; many of them consist of one or two words, as is typical of texting, and a few others appear to show Neff uncertain about what he's doing.
At one point, a text reads "I can't be hanging around with you with all that's going on. My guys get suspended for such things."
Bowen's lawyer, Charu Narang, said she is representing a woman who was in a relationship with a sheriff's deputy, and that the deputy was suspended for the relationship.
Narang questioned how a deputy could be suspended, while the Undersheriff was not.
"These are activities that could get him into a great deal of trouble," Narang said.
Another text notes "We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard," and yet another notes "I can't be a hypocrite."
But other texts have a much different cast: one of them is "I do like u. And i think u r a good person...just made some bad choices."
And another is less friendly: it says "If you can't follow my rules..." Still another: "I have concerns and don't want to be involved with anybody actively getting charged."
"I just want him to leave me alone," Bowens said. "I told him 'Don't text me any more, don't call any more,' but it's not stopping."
Bowens said that from the start, she felt coerced by Neff. "I did not want to be with him," she said.
"He's in a position of authority and he's abusing that power by basically trying to coerce my client into having some sort of relationship with him," said Narang.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015, Watertown, NY
On Wall Street