Philadelphia police commissioner resigns

Once 'best police commissioner in America'

By Patrick Cornell and Rebekah Riess, CNN
CNN video

(CNN) - One week after calling him "the best police commissioner in America," Philadelphia's mayor announced that Richard Ross Jr. is resigning.

Mayor Jim Kenney said he accepted the resignation because of new allegations of sexual harassment and gender and racial discrimination within the police department.

"While those allegations do not accuse Commissioner Ross of harassment, I do ultimately believe his resignation is in the best interest of the Department," the mayor wrote in a statement.

Kenney said last summer the city implemented reforms aimed at preventing workplace discrimination and harassment.

"While rolling out a new policy understandably takes time, I do not believe the police department has taken the necessary actions to address the underlying cultural issues that too often negatively impact women -- especially women of color. I will be enlisting the help of an independent firm to investigate the recent allegations and to make recommendations to overcome some of the discrimination and harassment within the department."

Kenney said of Ross' resignation: "I am disappointed, because he's been a terrific asset to the police department and the city as a whole."

Sexual harassment training "is going to address a lot of these issues," Kenney said at a press conference Wednesday.

"We are going to do our best to make it better," Kenney said.

Ross, the city of Philadelphia and others are named in a lawsuit filed Friday by two female Philadelphia Police officers. One of the plaintiffs, Cpl. Audra McCowan, claims that she called Ross to report that she had been experiencing sexual harassment and a hostile work environment and that she had been punished for reporting it.

According to the complaint regarding one male officer, Ross declined to act on McCowan's report, and instead suggested she "just order his dumb ass to go sit down and get out of your face 'Officer.'"

The complaint alleges that during these conversations, Ross said he was going to "school" Ms. McCowan on sexual harassment and indicated that he continues to be upset with her breaking off their two-year affair, which lasted from 2009 to 2011.

The complaint says that McCowan is married to a Philadelphia police sergeant and has been employed as a sworn member of the department for more than 15 years.

CNN has reached out to Ross for comment.

John McNesby, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, told the Philadelphia Inquirer the city is forcing Ross out.

"We were classmates in the academy. It's just a kick in the gut," said McNesby. "He did a great job for the city, for more than three decades. He's well-respected. I think the city is going to miss him."

Kennedy named Christine M. Coulter, deputy police commissioner, as acting commissioner while the city searches for a replacement for Ross.

Last Thursday, after a man shot six Philadelphia police officers and caused a hours-long standoff, Kenney introduced Ross as "the best police commissioner in America."

Ross had made "great progress in the department," Kenney said Wednesday, praising Ross' handling of big public events, like the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and calling his work "flawless, in many ways."

"I thing it's just time to move on," Kenney said. "He's moving on, we're moving on, and we thank him for his service."

The news comes just a month after 13 Philadelphia police officers were suspended for 30 days "with intent to dismiss" after an investigation into hateful or racist social media content compiled by The Plain View Project. Seventy-two officers were taken off the streets and placed on administrative duty following allegations that officers posted hateful or racist content online.

While the city's law department will be looking into the allegations, a third party would be looking at "broader issues," similar to how the social media content issue was handled, managing director Brian Abernathy said Wednesday.

CNN's Theresa Waldrop contributed to this report.

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