Branch County prosecutor under fire amid sexual harassment complaints
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article contains language that is not appropriate for all audiences.
COLDWATER, Mich. -- Allegations of sexual harassment have hit the Branch County Courthouse. Three courthouse workers have accused Branch County Prosecuting Attorney Ralph Kimble of harassment and making unwanted sexual advances. Two of the accusers have similar stories and are breaking their silence to the Newschannel 3 I-Team.
The I-Team also uncovered documents detailing the alleged harassment. To protect their privacy, Newschannel 3 has decided to use only their first names.
"He started talking about the size of his penis,” Shanna said. "As it continued, I asked him to stop and he refused to stop."
“He would constantly make comments about his penis and the size, his sexual relationship with his wife or lack thereof, and this was pretty typical conversation throughout the building; and I had never worked in an environment where that was typical conversation to have,” Jessica said.
Both women said sexual harassment is rampant at the county courthouse on Division Street. Instead of being a protector, the accusers claim, Ralph Kimble, an elected official, is a predator.
“I’m upset, frustrated, a little angry and devastated,” Shanna said. “This is my hometown."
Shanna was so upset, she filed a harassment and retaliation complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
Jessica said she was so bothered that she quit her job.
The I-team has learned that another former courthouse employee has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Kimble, in Branch County District Court.
In the suit, Evon Staley alleges that Kimble touched her inappropriately and called her late at night to talk about sex. She claims in the suit that Kimble exposed his genitals to multiple women in the workplace.
Staley declined to comment to Newschannel 3 but Shanna and Jessica said Staley's story is the norm on Division Street.
“I feel like at every corner we're being told, we don't have jurisdiction over him,” Jessica said. “He answers to someone and I want to know who that person is because he's running loose in Branch County and people are terrified to go to work every day."
The I-team reached out to Branch County Administrator Bud Norman to verify employee complaints. Norman responded via e-mail saying “the county can't respond due to pending litigation.”
After several days of trying to reach Kimble by phone, at his office and at his home, the I-Team received the following e-mail: "The Branch County Prosecuting Attorney denies all allegations of sexual harassment. This lawsuit is a retaliation for the just cause firing of the criminal defendant, Evon Staley, for her involvement in the manufacture and growing operation of marijuana found on her property."
Staley has been charged with illegally operating a marijuana grow house, but her story is similar to Shanna's. A year before Staley's lawsuit was filed, Shanna detailed similar accusations in a complaint filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In the civil rights complaint, obtained by the I-Team through The Freedom of Information Act, Shanna accuses Kimble of creating a hostile work environment and retaliating against her when she spoke out.
“I went forward with a grievance with the Attorney's Grievance Commission and when he found out about it, he became retaliatory and vindictive against me and the office I work for,” Shanna said.
In Evon Staley's complaint, she claimed she was afraid to make any complaints because she was near retirement.
At last check, court records show Kimble has not yet responded to Staley's suit.
As for Shanna's civil rights complaint, it was dismissed last year for insufficient evidence.
“There are many, many people,” Shanna said. “There's far more people. We are just the tip of the iceberg."
The I-team has learned that the Michigan State Police has investigated Kimble on an alleged harassment incident but the case was closed and no criminal charges were filed. Additionally, the I-Team has sent multiple Freedom of Information requests to state police, the Branch County Administrator and the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board to see what these entities knew about this alleged behavior.