Long-settled harassment lawsuit continues to dog Sonoma County sheriff candidate Dave Edmonds
It’s been 17 years since a young Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy filed a lawsuit alleging she had suffered harassment, discrimination and retaliation from the upper echelon of the Sheriff’s Office.
And it’s been 15 years since the county settled that suit by writing a $160,000 check to the woman.
Yet, the lawsuit continues to dog former Capt. Dave Edmonds in his current run for sheriff.
The accusations against Edmonds — that he threatened to discipline the deputy for reporting a racist remark from a co-worker, followed her into the women’s locker room and yelled at her as she cried — have come up at least twice in recent public campaign appearances.
Edmonds, who was one of 14 individually named defendants in the original complaint, denies any impropriety and questions the relevance of the lawsuit, saying, “This has become the focus of my campaign, even (though) I know my performance was ethical, professional and with compassion.”
But he was the first to bring it back up.
Just five weeks before Edmonds announced his candidacy, he called the now-former deputy out of the blue and left a voicemail saying he hoped she was well and that he wanted to resolve the problems between them.
It had been nearly two decades since she’d heard from him.
“I know I was dropped early (from the suit) and what not, but I do want to talk about that stuff, just close the door on those things,” Edmonds said in the May 26, 2021, voicemail, which was provided to The Press Democrat.
Edmonds has positioned himself in his campaign to be Sonoma County’s next sheriff as an outsider, set out to eliminate a culture of bullying and cronyism within the office.
But his critics and opponents point out that he’s been accused of bullying himself.
“That this case should have happened actually indicated that Dave was likely part of that bully culture against women that has been notorious at the Sheriff’s Office,” Kathleen Finigan, a longtime local community activist, told The Press Democrat.
Finigan first raised the issue at a January Homeless Action! candidate forum. Three months later, one of Edmonds’ opponents, retired San Francisco Police Sgt. Carl Tennenbaum, invoked the lawsuit at a Human Rights Commission forum.
Several former and current members of the Sheriff’s Office have echoed the same concerns.
Edmonds, 58, said he would answer Press Democrat questions about the voicemail only if they were submitted in writing.
In an email response to those questions, he said he tried to contact the former deputy because “I knew this case would come up. I knew I had done right by (her) and I wanted to hear her out. ... People can mature. I’ve always felt that in her heart she knows that, too.”
He added that, “I was hoping she would have bigger perspective, now that so many years had passed. This is a tough job, especially for women. I tried my best to help her.”
The woman, Lauren Ferrara, 43, said she didn’t respond to the message from Edmonds, but that it left her stunned and in tears.
“Some may wonder why I chose to speak up now after all this time has passed. Surprisingly, I have Dave Edmonds to thank for that,” Ferrara said in a statement to The Press Democrat.
Though the incident that led to the suit happened 20 years ago, she said she felt compelled to speak out about her experience and what she hopes Sonoma County voters will learn from it.
“Some may think the incident was too long ago and is completely irrelevant to (who) he is now and the position he is seeking,” Ferrara said. “However, others may view this incident as an example of a pattern and practice of bullying and manipulation, which are not ideal qualities in a candidate for sheriff.”
In an interview, Ferrara said hearing Edmonds’ voice on the voicemail — 15 years after she cut ties with the county — brought her to tears.
“I was even more disturbed that he was trying to close a door on something I’ve been dealing with for years and years,” she said.
In May 2002, Ferrara was 22 and training as the Sheriff’s Office youngest female deputy, when Edmonds, a lieutenant at the time, called her into his office one day.
She said he told her that he’d heard she mentioned witnessing racism in the Sheriff’s Office. Edmonds, she said, demanded she tell him what had occurred.
Ferrara denied it. She told The Press Democrat she never said anything negative about a peer or superior, believing she was vulnerable as a young, gay female trainee.
But when he pushed her further, she told him about a night in Windsor, when her field training officer told her that if she saw a Black person on a porch, “I was to immediately call for backup, stop the patrol car, exit, find cover and draw my handgun.”