At least one Senior ATF supervisor is being accused by multiple whistleblowers inside the agency of sexual harassment, preventing an independent inspector general from conducting oversight of the Bureau, intimidation and more. Another supervisor is being accused of helping to cover up harassment and intimidation. Whistleblowers have detailed the allegations to Senator Chuck Grassley, who sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Inspector General Horowitz about the matters late Wednesday.
"I write with concern regarding multiple allegations of sexual harassment, bullying, gender discrimination, and witness intimidation within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). Reports of these practices have been widespread, with many originating from inside the Special Operations Division (SOD) and dating back to 2012. Special Agent SherryAnn Quindley—a 25 year ATF veteran—along with 7 other whistleblowers indicate that they have experienced some form of the above harassment and sought help from the Internal Affairs Division (ATF IAD), largely to no avail. According to these whistleblowers, it is not uncommon for allegations to be suppressed for several years, preventing the Office of the Inspector General (DOJ OIG) from properly determining whether to conduct further investigations," Grassley wrote in the letter [bolding is mine]. "Quindley says she began to experience harassment and bullying by then-SOD Deputy Chief Billy Wright in the fall of 2012. According to Quindley, Chief Wright yelled at her in front of subordinates, threatened to “break her,” and eliminated her from Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Program meetings and emails to the OCDETF Regional Coordinators. Chief Wright also threatened to put Quindley on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) when he claimed a hospital stay prevented her from submitting travel documentation. Additionally, Chief Wright allegedly used Quindley’s battle with cancer as an excuse to marginalize her and to transfer her job duties to male counterparts."
The supervisor accused by multiple women of unwanted sexual advancements in the work place, inappropriate discussion and graphic detailing of sex acts, taking unwanted photos of female agents and more is Chief Bill Wright.
"Beginning in August of 2013, IAD interviewed many other women with sexual harassment claims originating in SOD, but most cases never made it past a preliminary investigation. These whistleblowers reported a variety of abuses to the Committee. For example, one whistleblower reported that Chief Wright made unwelcomed sexual advances at a work-related dinner, including squeezing her thigh under the table intimating that he would “take care of her marital issues.” He also allegedly attempted to photograph her and several female agents with his cell phone, despite their protestations. Another whistleblower reported that Chief Wright continually belittled her, spoke for her at meetings, used derogatory and offensive language to refer to women, and graphically described oral sex to her. Yet another whistleblower reported that Chief Wright made graphic and offensive comments in her presence and undermined her in her job," Grassley wrote. "Additionally, one whistleblower alleges witness intimidation. She says she was called by IA to testify as a witness in Quindley’s harassment claim, and was placed on administrative leave in an effort to intimidate her from testifying. She was reinstated by upper management shortly afterward."
According to Grassley's inquiry, Wright's supervisor helped him cover-up the allegations by calling female subordinates into meetings, threatening them with investigations and escorted them out of the building after issuing suspensions for daring to speak out about Wright's harassment.
"In February of 2013, Quindley reported the harassment to Chief Wright’s superior, then-SOD Chief Charlie Smith. Quindley also sought assistance from the Ombudsman’s Office, but she was informed that without additional complaints from other women, the office could not help her. The representative further suggested that, if she was experiencing problems, she should find another job," Grassley wrote. "In March of 2013, Quindley was called into a meeting with Chiefs Wright and Smith in which they threatened an internal investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations (OPRSO). After the meeting, they escorted her out of the building without any of her personal belongings. By April, Quindley had reported the conduct to the EEO, which she says only seemed to accelerate the harassment. For example, Wright attempted to suspend Quindley for two days after hearing of her complaint—a suspension that was ultimately lifted when deemed inappropriate by new management."
According to the whistleblowers who have come forward, there are many more women who have experienced similar instances of inappropriate behavior, harassment and intimidation, but they're too afraid to come forward out of fear they'll endure further harassment. Based on allegations intimidation for whistleblowers got worse after filing complaints and based on the history of ATF supervisors using harassment to bully Special Agents into silence, this isn't surprising. We saw the same tactics used during the Operation Fast and Furious scandal when the lives of whistleblowers who exposed wrongdoing were turned upside down by senior supervisors unhappy about the attention. They did the same against Special Agent Jay Dobyns when he reported wrongdoing surrounding the handling of death threats issued to his family.
Attorney General Lynch and Inspector General Horowitz have been asked to respond to a series of questions regarding the status of Chiefs Wright and Quindley and whether they've been disciplined for harassing subordinates by September 28. In addition, they've been asked to explain why complaints filed by female whistleblowers on these alarming issues have not been properly addressed.