Chilmark, police department settle federal suit

Former chief, town were accused of civil rights violations, disability discrimination, retaliation. 

Chilmark police chief Brian Cioffi in November 2016 announcing his resignation as chief. – Edie Prescott

Updated Dec. 30

Former Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi and the town of Chilmark have settled with former Chilmark Police Officer Elizabeth Gebo for an undisclosed sum in a case over sex discrimination, disability discrimination, and retaliation, among other allegations. 

A federal complaint was filed on Oct. 26, 2018; a settlement was reached on Dec. 20, and the case was dismissed three days later, according to the case docket. Gebo’s attorneys, Michaela May and Todd Bennett, could not be immediately reached for comment. Leonard Kesten, representing Cioffi and the town of Chilmark, told The Times the case has been resolved, and everyone is “pleased to get this over with.”

Kesten said there will be a settlement agreement within the next week or two. “All that needs to happen now is papers will be signed and agreements made,” Kesten said.

Chilmark selectmen released a brief statement following news of the settlement. “Our former police chief resigned,” the board wrote. “We moved on and chose a new police chief. We are very pleased with the leadership our new chief has shown in our community.”

Introductory language in the complaint sums up what allegedly transpired. “The Plaintiff, Elizabeth Gebo (“Plaintiff” or “Gebo”), brings this action to seek redress for sex and disability discrimination that she experienced during a time when she was the sole female, full-time police officer employed by the Defendant Town of Chilmark (‘the Town’),” the complaint states in part. “During that time, the Town’s chief of police, Defendant Brian Cioffi (“Cioffi”) initiated a sexual relationship with Plaintiff, his subordinate, that was coercive and that caused Plaintiff to experience considerable emotional distress. After the relationship ended for the last time, then-Chief Cioffi intentionally misled Plaintiff concerning her eligibility for employment, in retaliation for her refusal to engage in a sexual relationship with him, in effort to cover up the relationship, and in an act of unlawful disability discrimination. The result was the loss of Plaintiff’s job and the dashing of dreams that Plaintiff had held since her childhood.”

Cioffi resigned from his post as chief in 2016, citing a desire for a career change and more family time.

“I have enjoyed my time with the Police Department, and value my relationships with all the other dedicated department members. Their commitment to the principles of community policing that I tried to instill in them have made me proud,” Cioffi said at the 2016 selectmen’s meeting.

In a letter to the selectmen, Cioffi wrote he was departing the Chilmark Police Department to employ forestry training he gained in college, and fulfill “lifelong ambitions of working in an outdoor position.” 

According to the written complaint filed by Gebo, she was first hired by the department in 2008 as a traffic officer when she was 20. At that time, Cioffi was a 33-year-old patrol officer.

The following year, Gebo was hired as a special officer and Cioffi was appointed chief of the department, according to the complaint.

Although she was an intermittent officer, Gebo worked a high volume of shifts, which the complaint describes as “unusual.” The two would often work the same shifts and be alone with each other during the slow winter season.

In the complaint, Gebo says Cioffi told her “Why do you think you’ve been getting so many shifts? I can work alone; I did it for years before I became chief.”

Gebo alleges in the complaint that Cioffi would make sexual advances while the two worked together. 

The complaint states that in 2011, Cioffi initiated a sexual relationship that lasted for several years, until 2014, when Gebo allegedly attempted to cease contact. Gebo said in the complaint that she told Cioffi she was planning on getting married. Cioffi said he created a special position in the department for her.

The relations continued between Cioffi and Gebo with “periodic interruptions,” according to the complaint.

In 2012, a full-time officer position had been added to the department by Cioffi, and Gebo assumed that role, according to the complaint. Around that time, the complaint reads, Gebo was prescribed antidepressants and struggling with her mental health.

Gebo’s mental health worsened during that time, and she began to feel depressed and have thoughts of suicide before attempting to take her own life in 2013, the complaint reads.

Soon after, Gebo allegedly admitted to exposing her relationship with Cioffi to her husband and Cioffi’s wife.

“Cioffi was furious at the disclosure,” the complaint reads.

The two would frequently argue, and according to the complaint, Cioffi would sometimes get physical with Gebo.

“Plaintiff and Cioffi engaged in an argument in a cruiser … While plaintiff attempted to leave the cruiser, Cioffi grabbed plaintiff by the arm, leaving bruises,” the complaint reads.

Gebo then allegedly severed her relationship with Cioffi, and afterward received threats from Cioffi that he would place her on leave because of her mental health.

In 2015, Gebo voluntarily entered an in-patient mental health treatment facility.

After leaving the facility, she met with Cioffi, who told her that her mood disorders made her “unqualified to be a police officer,” according to the complaint. 

The complaint states that Gebo asserted that Cioffi refused to let her return to her position, not because of her mental health history, but because of her unwillingness to comply with his ongoing sexual advances. 

“Cioffi’s actions were part of his scheme to manipulate plaintiff, and continue his already substantial pattern of discrimination and retaliation against plaintiff,” the complaint reads.

Gebo tendered her letter of resignation, and filed a discmination charge against the town and Cioffi in 2016.

Updated to include more details from the complaint. — Ed.

Reporters Brian Dowd and Lucas Thors contributed to this story.


    • Yes, here’s what the family man had to say in his 2016 letter of resignation:

      “Despite the long hours and often trying challenges that too often kept me away from my family, I have enjoyed my time with the Police Department and value my relationships with all the other dedicated department members…”
      “This is not an easy decision, but I am convinced that this is the right time to make a change if I am ever going to utilize my college training in forestry and my life-long ambitions of working in an outdoor position, while hopefully spending more quality time with my family.”

      Cioffi asked selectmen to waive a provision in his contract that required 30-day notice and make his resignation effective immediately, which they did at their meeting on Wednesday. ~from the Cape Cod Times

  1. Owing to the fact this whole claim by Officer Gebo was filed as a result of actions by former Chief Cioffi , when shall we expect him to do the right thing and reimburse the taxpayers for the considerable expense of litigating?

    • Thank you for posting this link. A LOT of details left out here. Sex in police cruisers?! Was this while they were on duty?!

      Hey, Chilmark- I’ve got a hot date. Can I borrow a cop car?

    • How many gun permits did Chief Cioffi, using his questionable judgement, deny?

      How many more of these outrages are the public expected to digest? How long before we recognize that the current model of policing is hopelessly broken?

      You can argue that “they’re not all bad”, but they ARE all part of an institution that is irredeemably corrupt.
      For the sake of law & order, we need to consider dismantling our police departments.

      • Bart– I really wonder what kind of society you envision with no police.
        Would everyone just be nice to each other, no one would steal anything, no one would drive drunk and kill your loved one’s that you say you protect.
        No one would need emergency services, there would never a need to direct traffic, deal with family emergencies. I have just one suggestion , Bart.. When you are drinking seriously potent Kool aid, you should put the pipe down. Apparently, It’s a really toxic combination.

  2. That’s two towns in recent months. Tisbury had theirs, Chilmark theirs. What police department and town is next with a suit? This island is not immune to this type of behavior. This behavior is just amplified due to our small population. Consolidate Police Departments.

  3. wow– Cioffi should run for president as a republican. He seems to have all the right moral characteristics .
    Well, perhaps he should run in 2024– we wouldn’t want to have any “unfair” competition for the “chosen one”..
    But really, wouldn’t it have been better if he just paid her off, and lied about it all ?
    He could have made up some degrading nickname for her, and all of his supporters would have cheered, laughed and ultimately rallied behind him. And why on earth did he respond to a “biased” fake federal court complaint ? Hmmmmmm perhaps this only qualifies him to be a republican governor.. He has a bit to learn.

    • I think the democrats have the edge on the morals characteristics. Just ask Bill Clinton, Gerry Studds and the rest of the perverted democrats. They used their position of power over a subordinate. WHILE IN OFFICE.

    • You blanket statement is rude, judgmental and offensive to all conservatives. Shows what ignorance puts out in the universe. Your tolerance must make you dizzy

  4. Nearly 85 percent believe they should be allowed to have sex with a colleague, and 64 percent said that they’d at least attempted a hookup . So this isnt unusual. Happens all the time. Those pretending it dont happen are not honest about it.

    • 85% of whom? Where did you get that statistic from. Also, a subordinate is not a colleague; there’s an inherent power differential.

        • red sox — you say your statistic was from ” a survey of all people ”
          really ? some origination got the opinion of all 7 . 5 billion people on the planet and you think you can post that here as a fact ?
          Come on buddy, try a little harder to come up with something that normal people won’t laugh at–

      • jb–smells like a pdooa statistic by red sox there.
        But as we all know, 73 % of statistics are made up on the spot.

        • Lol, Don. “There are 3 kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” ~Quote often attributed to Benjamin Disraeli

    • There are online articles about the survey RedSox misuses to quote his percentate and misapply his misreading, misunderstanding, and/or purposely misleading comment as if it’s appropriate here. It is not. RedSox either didn’t notice or doesn’t care to distinguish between colleages and subordinate workers, as he tries to minimize the abuse of power behavior of Brian Cioffi.

      You’d have to be a real jerk to think that the alleged conduct of Cioffi was in any way okay. The descriptions of how Cioffi used his position to control this woman are disgusting. Thank you, MV Times for having the courage to run this story about what goes on in a “good old boy” small town. I’d like to see an investigation about how Cioffi got in as chief over Klaren in the first place, when clearly, the town should have gone with Klaren all along. No wonder the selectmen would rather “move on”. This story raises a lot of questions.

      • I standby my conclusion this is pretty normal whether its between a colleague or subordinate. It isnt just police, emts, and fireman either. Its pretty much the standard everywhere.

  5. Years of having sex in police cruisers and at the station, among other locations, sounds like an affair with two consenting participants, neither of whom deserves to work for the town.

  6. Colleague? SUBORDINATE. Chief Cioffi used his power over a young officer to gain sexual satisfaction at this victim’s expense. He is awfully close to being a rapist. So much for that ‘higher standard of ethical & moral behavior’ you touted after another display of criminality from the local constabulary. What a fraud. What a MONSTER. I hope his new employers NEVER allow this predator to gain a management position again.

    • This comment is SO out of line. Please think about what you are saying before you infect others with your ignorance. Always wrong to have a relationship with a subordinate, it should never happen but unfortunately it does, especially when you think of all the people out there who marry their boss or meet through work. People are human and things happen and get complicated in life no one is perfect. There are always two sides to every story and a lot of things you will never know through a newspaper article, which is why you should not insert yourself with your outlandish judgments. This seems like an incredibly complicated situation for both involved. To sit here and call someone a “rapist” and a “sexual predator” is so inappropriate and the MV times should remove this comment or never should have allowed it to be posted, it’s slander and you can’t just accuse people of illegal crimes with no evidence.

  7. Funny how the MVTIMES has chosen to report on this settlement case but at the same time has neglected to report on the other recent settlement of an undisclosed amount concerning one of the down island fire departments and a female employee. Hint, its not Edgartown or Tisbury. Hey MVTIMES how long you gonna cover for him/them??

  8. This is a sad thing. Unfortunately this may have been avoided. Choffi was released from west tisbury, his first place of employment after suspicious behavior. He was not fired but but resigned and then hired in Chilmark and received a youth lot sometime after, this should be investigated. Why was he hired after being asked to resign from west Tisbury and the how did he get a youth lot? What type of review did Chilmark conduct and how seriously did they take why he resigned from west tis? Luck of the draw seems very lucky in this case. additionally a look into Jeff Day’s resignation from Chilmark and then hiring in vineyard haven should be reviewed as well. There are many roomers as to why Jeff Day left Chilmark. I don’t know whose job it is weather federal or state But there is a history of poor behavior on the part of police then resignation and rehiring. Please look into it. Thank you.

    • That’s a fairly common problem, nationwide. They have to be FIRED.

      We NEED a civilian review board for each island town. I hope my neighbors are starting to realize what sort of people your ‘law enforcement officers’ really are, and I hope they question why the courts rubber-stamp these thugs’ every (false) utterance. Wake up: The cops are not the ‘good guys’

    • Great idea Zeb! MVTimes, please use your investigative journalism skills and look into why Jeff Day resigned from
      Chilmark. I heard those same
      “Rumors”, although unfortunately
      they are NOT just rumors. And now he’s being promoted throughout the ranks in Tisbury… Chief Saloio making more good decisions I see. Not.

    • I’d guess that if one department manages to get rid of a ‘problem’ officer, they just want to be done with it. If they gave a bad reference to a future employer, another town, they are set up for litigation. It has gone on for years both on and off-island. Maybe there should be a requirement for a police officer to obtain a special ‘license’, just like a barber or a plumber. If that license is under investigation by a state ‘board’, then that officer wouldn’t be able to just go to another town and put his/her past behind them. Having said that, many female officers get a reputation as a ‘badge bunny’, and when they stop dating the other officers they work with, problems ensue. Typical workplace romance nonsense that goes on in the private and public sector. We have had numerous ‘town hall romances’ with some involved actually getting happily married, while others have not had such good results. its just human nature, whether law enforcement, town hall, or private sector.

  9. If I have to read one more story about a police chief doing something wrong to one of the officers in the department and then the town getting sued, I’m going to throw up on the living room rug (of my neighbor in the middle of the night after I break into their house!)

  10. I am appalled at the feeding frenzy towards our honored MV law enforcement officers, who seek only to serve the public, ensuring our safety and well being.
    Never would any of our treasured officers, violate their sworn oath or the Constitution.
    Would they?

  11. WhaleOilDriller, I am kind of surprised the CCTimes had a more comprehensive story than the mvtimes as them as well as our Two island papers are totally liberal, bias and all three cover up a lot when it comes to stuff like this in their liberal neighborhood(s).

  12. Good grief, we have barfing burglars, constitutional rights violators, and on duty fornicators as the leadership of three island departments. Great role models, I wonder what their subordinates do with such stellar examples to follow. Seems like Mr. Wiseman is on to something in regard to looking at the hot potato engineer of the great glock turkey massacre of chilmark. Lest we forget his first billet was Aquinnah as a ranger. I wonder how many millions of dollars are spent each year supporting local law lack of enforcement. How about we just contract with the state police and get rid of these pathetic local patrols.

  13. This news is truly upsetting for so many reasons. I have to admit it feels intrusive reading what occurred between the former Chief and this young woman. But on the other hand I think the public should know the extent of the former chief’s depravity and dereliction of duty.

    I don’t know this young woman, but she deserves complete support from this community. And whatever she received from the town in this settlement is not nearly enough. No amount of money will ever make this right and heal the emotional wounds this pattern of harassment surely inflicted on her.

    I think its safe to say there is much more to this story, and there are so many questions need to be answered:

    How did (as reported in the Cape Cod Times) the Chief manage to sweep this young woman’s attempted suicide under the rug and have her cleared to return to active duty the VERY NEXT DAY? How is that even possible? Isn’t there some type of protocol for an officer that attempts to commit suicide to receive the proper care and counselling he or she needs before being cleared to return to work?

    How did town officials, or other officers for the Chilmark PD now know this affair (that allegedly lasted several years) NOT know this was happening? Or should the question be why did they know about it and do nothing? The reports in the MV Times and CC Times state the two engaged in sexual relations in a cruiser and also had arguments in the police headquarters — including an incident where the young officer threatened to kill herself with a gun inside the police station. How does all of this evade the notice of the other officers and town officials?

    And according to news reports, the young female officer filed an administrative complaint of discrimination with the state in August of 2016. Yet when he suddenly and unexpectedly “retires” in December of 2016, a mere four months later, he cites a desire to spend more time with his family and pursue a career in forestry.

    There is no question that the town selectmen were aware of the discrimination complaint filed with the state months prior. And yet they allowed Cioffi to float this bogus story to the public? I would be curious to know if they read his resignation letter in public, or if they publicly said anything public regarding his resignation?

    Considering they (must have) been aware of the August 2016 complaint, why did selectmen not launch an investigation into what happened within the department? Did the August 2016 complaint include detail about the female officers attempted suicide? Or her allegedly threatening to shoot herself in the department? If it did weren’t the selectmen legally obligated to perform an investigation? Or at least start asking some questions? Or place the chief on leave? Or fire him?

    And why did the selectmen allow the chief to resign? Did resigning allow him to collect a (taxpayer-funded) pension or continue to collect health benefits? Did he receive a severance package? Did he collect leftover vacation or sick days? How much did allowing his to region cost the town and taxpayers, exactly?

    And the questions go on and on . . . I only hope the MV Times stays on this story and digs a little deeper. Although the former chiefs actions are reprehensible, it seems there is a lot of blame to go around and some questions that need to be answered.

  14. Are we destined to have every thread devolve into a shouting match between the Crunchers and the MAGAs? Unfortunately, this seems to be the case. Meanwhile, another sterling victory for public trust and our confidence in our town leaders to select the most qualified individuals to head departments at taxpayer’s expense.

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