LPD misogyny The Patriarchy

Did LPD Retire a Hero or Hush Up a Sexual Assault?

Editors’ Note: We are color-coding names in this piece to help readers distinguish the different people mentioned.

Update: A source close to this case has confirmed with Seeing Red that Joshua Atkinson is the officer who was accused of sexually assaulting a fellow police officer at LPD. He has been accused of sexually assaulting one officer and raping another.

Former Lincoln Police Department officer Erin Spilker has become the third woman employed by LPD to allege pervasive sexual harassment and misogyny in the Department. Her 34-page lawsuit details a range of episodes in which women were harassed, assaulted, or subjected to heightened scrutiny by supervisors. Spilker’s most troubling allegation concerns how the Department handled her complaint that another officer sexually assaulted her.

Spilker describes an accumulation of incidents over the years that by 2015, when she says a fellow officer sexually assaulted her at a Halloween party, led her to believe she should not report the crime because she would face retaliation. In her lawsuit, Spilker refers to the other officer as “Officer D.”

In January of 2020, after former LPD officer Sarah Williams had resigned and filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint alleging sex discrimination, Officer Angela Sands–who has also recently been fired from and has alleged discrimination by LPD–advised former Chief Jeffrey Bliemeister that the Department needed to get a hold on the situation and vigorously investigate sexual malfeasance by officers. According to Spilker’s lawsuit, Sands told Bliemeister that Spilker had been sexually assaulted by Officer D at a Halloween Party and that Officer D and another officer, “Officer J,” needed to be fully investigated. She told Bliemeister that she and Spilker should both be questioned about these incidents.

However, time ticked by and nobody included Spilker in any investigation of Officer D. Over the course of 2020, even after Sands informed the Department that Officer D had allegedly sexually assaulted Spilker, Spilker was repeatedly required to interact with him, according to her complaint. Only in November of 2020–ten months after Sands informed Bliemeister of the assault, and on the eve of a long-anticipated lawsuit from Sarah Williams–did Bliemeister direct Sands to file an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint with the city about Officer D, including the allegation that he sexually assaulted Spilker.

Shortly after the EEO complaint against Officer D was finally made, Sarah Williams filed her lawsuit against the City. Williams’s lawsuit–and the anticipation of it–seems to have been what finally prompted LPD and the City to investigate some of the crimes and misconduct, though Spilker’s suit details that these investigations were inadequate and included intimidating and humiliating interactions with victims in the Department. She explains that at one point Bliemeister suggested subjecting both Spilker and Officer D to a polygraph, which is not only nonsense as far as producing evidence for or against a crime, but would also be wildly offensive to subject a sexual assault victim to.

In the midst of the inadequate investigations into Officer D and other alleged offenders at LPD, Bliemeister made his exit, announcing his resignation in December of 2020.

In the following months, Spilker claims she repeatedly objected to the way the investigation of Officer D was being conducted. But in March the investigation was concluded, and Officer D received an eight-hour suspension–which turned out to be for a physical assault on a male officer. He received nothing in regard to his alleged assault on Spilker. He returned to work and was soon allowed to medically retire after yet another victim came forward with an allegation against him.

At least three women who work for LPD have had to face public scrutiny after coming forward with lengthy documentation of sexual mistreatment. Officer D has not faced any such public scrutiny. In fact, when the media began asking LPD questions about Officer D–which resulted in no story, as far as we can tell–Spilker said that her supervisor, Jason Stille, who is now one of the Department’s assistant chiefs, logged into her computer to search for evidence that she had leaked information to the press.

So who is Officer D? Spilker’s lawsuit includes the information that Officer D was accidentally shot in the leg by another LPD officer in 2018 as they were struggling with someone they were arresting. We have searched news reports of police activity and can find only one officer who fits this description, Joshua Atkinson, who was accidentally shot in the leg by another officer on December 29, 2018. Atkinson, who had previously been involved in a lethal police shooting in 2016, was hailed as a hero in the local press before he retired from LPD in May of 2021.