Why Philly Police Commissioner Ross resigned and who’ll replace him

Ross was named in a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging an old affair caused bad judgement on sexual harassment complaints.

Richard Ross (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Richard Ross (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated 9:15 p.m.

In a widely unexpected move that caused ripples of shock across the city, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the immediate resignation of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

Kenney said late Tuesday afternoon that new sexual harassment allegations had surfaced within the department, as well as allegations of racial and gender discrimination. While “those allegations do not accuse Commissioner Ross,” his resignation was in “the best interest of the department,” according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

The controversy appears to revolve around new litigation facing the department.

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Officer Jennifer Allen and Corporal Audra McCowan filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city in July, naming Ross and 10 other officers as defendants. In April, both female officers filed charges of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, McCowan alleges she informed Ross of the harassment months prior to filing the suit, and he failed to act — as retribution for a fizzled love affair between the two, according to the suit.

The police department has yet to make a public statement.

Deputy Commissioner Christine M. Coulter, a 30-year veteran in the department, will serve as acting commissioner while the administration searches for Ross’ replacement. She was also named as a defendant in the civil rights suit.

The move comes less than a week Ross earned plaudits for overseeing the surrender of the gunman who shot six police officers in North Philadelphia — with zero fatalities. Mayor Kenney subsequently declared Ross “the best police commissioner in America.”

Earlier this summer, the department was rocked by a scandal that saw thousands of racist or violent Facebook comments made by Philly police aired in public.

Unexpected turn for a respected veteran

Kenney, who appointed Ross in 2016, cited his administration’s roll-out of new sexual harassment policies to reform the city’s historically bungled handling of misconduct cases. The police department has a long history of sexual misconduct scandals that spans decades, implicating both rank-and-file cops and high-ranking brass.

“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 in the statement.

City Council President Darryl Clarke said in a Tuesday evening statement that he was sad to hear the news, but asserted the PPD’s zero-tolerance harassment policy must apply to everyone, without regard for rank.

“It is very troubling to learn of allegations of sexual harassment and gender and racial discrimination within the department, Clarke said. “[Our] policy must apply to every city employee, supervisor and leader at all levels of city government.”

District Attorney Larry Krasner declined to comment.

Ross became commissioner after a career at the department that stretched back to 1989. A patrolman who worked his way up to homicide captain, with stints in other units before becoming deputy commissioner in 2005. He was widely viewed at the time of his appointment as a “cop’s cop,” who had cultivated political alliances and waited diligently for a shot at the top command.

The leader of Philly’s police union said he was saddened to hear about the resignation.

“The commissioner has served in every rank of the department and is a shining example that hard work and dedication can lead you to the top of your profession. We will miss his passion and guidance for this great police department,” said FOP Lodge #5 President John McNesby.

A pioneering woman officer

Coulter, who will be acting commissioner, is a Northeast Philly native. She got her start in the 25th district when women were a relative rarity in the police force.

“When I was a kid, we didn’t have women police officers in Philadelphia,” Coulter told CBS3 in 2017. “It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I thought this was something I would like to do.”

Coulter’s been a Philly cop for three decades, serving in patrol, narcotics intelligence, investigations and special patrol — and she’s worked as a faculty member in the graduate program of public safety at Saint Joseph’s University.

Coulter was promoted to deputy commissioner for organizational services in 2014, and became a three-star deputy two years ago.

Before that, she was on the Northwestern University police force and earned a master’s in public safety from Saint Joe’s.

This is a breaking story and will be updated with new details as they emerge.

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