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.