Teresa Williams thought she had landed her dream job in Iron Mountain, Michigan, becoming the first female officer in the history of the rural town's police department.
But she was relentlessly harassed and assaulted during her 4½ years there and ultimately resigned, according to a federal lawsuit she filed last month against three Iron Mountain officers.
Within weeks of being hired in October 2017, she was forced to make out with her direct supervisor at a bar, according to the suit. The supervisor and Williams’ former patrol partner also bet on who could have sex with her first, the suit says.
“I want to see somebody step in and take action — like hold these people accountable,” she said Thursday. “Just because you wear a badge and you’re a cop, it doesn’t mean you’re above the law. It doesn’t mean you get to treat people however you want and break the law and do whatever you want.”
Williams, 35, also spoke about Iron Mountain, a tight-knit community of about 7,500 residents in the Upper Peninsula that borders Wisconsin.
“I want, especially the community of Iron Mountain, to know that I’m doing this because they have the right to know … what and who it is they have that is supposed to be protecting and serving them,” she said.
'It's just appalling that these individual officers are able to act with such impunity'
The lawsuit alleges sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, a hostile work environment and retaliation. Named as defendants are the department’s top two supervisors, Ed Mattson, the director of police and fire services, and Joseph Dumais, the deputy director of police services. Garth Budek, Williams’ former patrol partner, is the third officer named as a defendant. Also named as defendants are the city and the police department.
Gregory Grant, an attorney who represents all of the defendants, said in a statement Thursday: “I am unable to provide any comment at this time regarding specific allegations or details as the case is pending. There are two sides to every story and my clients are looking forward to presenting the facts in court. With this said, the City of Iron Mountain has always been committed to creating a safe and respectful work environment for all of its employees.”
The Police Officers Labor Council, the union that represents Iron Mountain officers, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Jack Schulz, Williams’ attorney, said he believes police in Iron Mountain are insulated from checks-and-balances systems to hold the powerful accountable that are available in bigger communities.
“This was her dream job in her hometown,” he said. “A lot of the agencies and things set up to regulate and monitor these things kind of overlook rural areas in Michigan and tend to focus on larger municipalities.”
He added: “It’s just appalling that these individual officers are able to act with such impunity. I’m proud to represent her, but I’m saddened to see that there is nowhere to turn.”
Schulz and Williams said none of the three officers who are defendants have faced discipline or been investigated criminally.
A representative for the Dickinson County Prosecuting Attorney's Office declined to comment Thursday.
An initiation ceremony that included a Fireball shot and making out
Only weeks after Williams was hired, she was invited to a bar, the lawsuit says. She was excited about the opportunity to bond with her new colleagues.
However, at the bar, Dumais pressured her into doing a Fireball shot and making out with him as part of an initiation ritual, according to the suit.
“Plaintiff refused and said the whole thing was made up. Dumais responded that it was required and that everyone had to do it as standard protocol. To allegedly demonstrate, Dumais took an initial shot along with a former county dispatcher (male) then kissed him. Ultimately, Plaintiff buckled to the pressure and took the 'IMPD shot' with Dumais who, as a result, kissed Plaintiff and stated that she was now 'officially part of IMPD,'” the suit stated.
Later on at the bar, Dumais asked for another shot with Williams, according to the suit. She repeatedly refused before she relented and was groped for the first time by a colleague, the suit says.
“Dumais pressured Plaintiff into taking the second IMPD shot, however this time Dumais put his hand between Plaintiff’s legs and grabbed her genitals,” it says.
In another instance, Williams drove Budek home after a night at a bar, where he forced himself on her and made her touch his genitals over his pants, according to the suit. He groped her and kissed her against her wishes, the suit says.
Sometime later, Williams joined Budek and his wife at a residence to watch a movie, the suit says. She said she felt more comfortable because Budek’s wife was there, according to the suit. At some point, the wife excused herself. That is when Budek grabbed Williams’ hand, guided her downstairs and pressured her into performing oral sex on him, the suit says.
'Sick and tired of hearing her pity story'
Williams said that in early 2020 someone told her she would be fired and that Dumais had been telling people outside the department she was not going to be around "much longer,” according to the suit.
By October of that year, the lawsuit said, Williams had been asked to meet with Dumais in his office with his door closed. Williams said that she did not want to be alone in the room with him and that she asked whether someone else could join them, to which Dumais said no, according to the suit. Before he asked her to leave, Dumais shouted that he was “sick and tired of hearing her pity story,” the suit says.
During Williams' tenure, Budek was promoted to sergeant and Dumais was promoted to deputy director of police services — the second-highest position in the department.
Williams was subsequently suspended multiple times, accused of unprofessional activity, such as failing to respond to a radio in a call about a hit-and-run, a scenario the lawsuit says would not have resulted in disciplinary action against her male counterparts.
In March 2022, Williams met with Mattson and Dumais to discuss several topics, including officers' talking about her outside the department and the ongoing harassment against her, the suit says. The tone of the meeting, according to the suit, was not favorable toward Williams but more sympathetic toward Budek.
“Mattson stated that Budek was ‘struggling emotionally’ and wanted to ‘come clean to his wife,’” the suit says. “Mattson continued that he understood the work related incidents to be ‘fully clothed touching’ and that he ‘didn’t care about anything that happened elsewhere.’ Mattson continued that he was discussing this with her to help Budek (as opposed to addressing the sexual harassment and assault of an officer on a subordinate at all),” the suit says.
Soon after, she was told she would be fired if she did not resign, according to the suit. She left in April.
'My job meant everything to me'
Williams said Thursday she was speaking out so that women and other victims of sexual assault and harassment have a voice.
She recalled that even as a child, she was breaking barriers as only the second girl who played football at her Wisconsin high school. As a sophomore, she played defensive end and on the offensive line on the junior varsity team, she said.
It was that type of spirit that led her to be a police officer in a department of only men, Williams said.
She recalled the good times in uniform.
She beamed with pride talking about how she once pulled an elderly woman from a car that had flipped upside down after a crash.
“I was the only person that was small enough to crawl through that back window. I stripped off my vest, my duty belt … and I crawled in there,” she said.
Her voice cracked when she spoke about how she might never work as an officer again.
“I would love to be able to go back and be a police officer. I really would. My job meant everything to me,” Williams said while trying to hold back tears. “Unfortunately, I believe, in our small towns, nobody would hire me back.”
CORRECTION (March 23, 2023, 10:47 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of an attorney. He is Jack Schulz, not Schultz.