DA talks about sexual harassment investigation involving sheriff's office

Lake County undersheriff at center of claims

LAKE COUNTY, Colo. -- The investigation into the Lake County Sheriff's Office could go beyond complaints of sexual harassment. Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown explains that he's also looking to see if any rules were broken inside the sheriff's office to determine if it would rise to the level of official misconduct. 

"If a workplace that's a governmental workplace sets out specific rules for people to follow and they totally disregard those rules, even though it might not be something like unlawful sexual contact, it can be official misconduct," said Brown.

Three Lake County 911 dispatchers allege that Undersheriff Fernando Mendoza has sexually harassed them multiple times. 

After Denver7 broke the story earlier this week, the district attorney formally announced an active investigation into the sheriff's office is ongoing. The investigation began in early October after his office received a complaint.

"Police officers in particular... they're supposed to protect the public, if they can't protect the workplace that causes me great concern," said Brown.

Defense attorney Benjamin Hartford said the comments reportedly made by Undersheriff Mendoza are wildly inappropriate, especially for someone in a position of power.

“Does the sheriff have an opportunity to do what’s right, sure? Will he do what’s right? I think there’s a higher likelihood now that people are shining a light on it," said Hartford.

He says that recent headlines, including stories out of Hollywood, prove that nothing is often done until these cases become public. Hartford adds that victims may feel trapped because they are unsure how to report it.

An organization called 9to5 Colorado has a helpline for anyone who believes they are experiencing sexual harassment at work. The number is 1-800-522-0925. Calls to that hotline more than doubled after the Harvey Weinstein story broke.

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