Report details sexual harassment charge against Stonington employee

Stonington — An investigation by the town and police into allegations of sexual harassment by longtime highway department employee Ernie Santos reveals he tried to kiss the hand of a female community services officer, asked about her boyfriend and made comments about sitting on a couch next to her.

Santos, who has had previous disciplinary problems, was accused of sexual harassment and was suspended for 10 days, serving five days beginning July 31 with the other five days being held in abeyance until July 31, 2020. If there are no further violations of the town’s harassment policy or other serious misconduct during that time, the town will rescind the second five days. 

Santos was also ordered to undergo sexual harassment training and not have any contact with the town’s community service officers, who are typically college students interested in criminal justice who work for the police department in the summer.

The discipline came after the police department and town received a verbal complaint from a community service officer on July 11. The town has said Santos had accepted responsibility for the misconduct.

The investigation by Town Attorney Meredith Diette, which The Day obtained through a Freedom of Information request, reveals that the CSO, whose name was redacted, reported the conduct that day, July 17, to Lt. Bryan Schneider and texted other CSOs about it.

The CSO said, as she raised her hand, Santos grabbed it and raised it toward his mouth as if to kiss it.

Santos then asked, “Do you have a boyfriend?” and she replied, “Yes.”

She said Santos then replied, “Oh never mind I won’t ask.”

Later that morning the CSO texted her fellow CSOs about the encounter.

“IDK (I don’t know) if you guys met ernie the trash guy yet but don’t tell him anything personal and try not to be too friendly with him. He became very inappropriate with me this morning and crossed a couple lines he shouldn’t have. Just letting you know. Be safe around him.”

She then reported the incident to Schneider.

Santos told investigators he asked about her having a boyfriend in the context of her detailing her previous night’s activities and when she told him yes he said, “something like, ‘Lucky him.’ ”

Santos said he reached out his hand to shake the CSO’s hand, but “does not think he made a motion as though he was going to kiss (the CSO’s) hand” and “does not recall her pulling her hand away from him,” according to the report.

Rod Coleman, the longtime operator of the Mystic drawbridge, said he witnessed Santos grab the CSO's hand and he "brought it very close to his mouth and motioned to kiss it, Coleman recalled,” the report said.

He said he heard Santos “make a kissing sound,” though Coleman said Santos’ lips did not make contact with the CSO.

He said Santos then asked if she had a boyfriend and when she said yes, Santos then said, “Oh, never mind.”

The town has said there were incidents in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012 in which Santos got angry with fellow employees and threatened them. He was disciplined for the 2011 and 2012 incidents. In 2006, former Director of Public Works Joe Bragaw wrote a letter to Santos because he was concerned that Santos “might use violence in the workplace."

j.wojtas@theday.com

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