Accuser drops sexual-harassment claim against Newport Beach police chief

Sexual-harassment allegations lodged against the Newport Beach police chief have been dismissed at the request of the accuser, a former dispatcher who claimed she was the victim of discrimination, intimidation and wrongful termination.

Attorneys representing Christine Hougan asked Monday that her complaint against police Chief Jay Johnson be dismissed, though her broader accusations against the department will go to trial.

Hougan filed the lawsuit in 2013 alleging that she was sexually harassed by Johnson and that the Police Department had discriminated against her and wrongfully terminated her.

The former dispatcher previously alleged in court papers that Johnson made inappropriate comments and used his position to intimidate her after her husband, a former police officer, testified against department officials in a separate lawsuit.

"Too often, people make unscrupulous accusations against public officials, and too often the public assumes the worst, or at best is left wondering about the truth," City Manager Dave Kiff wrote in a statement in response to the judge's action.

"I regret that Chief Johnson and his family have been put through this. It isn't right. He deserves an apology — he may not get one from others, but I am personally sorry these accusations were made against an outstanding leader," Kiff said.

Johnson said in a statement Monday that the allegations against him were "completely false."

"They were fabricated by an employee after her termination with the intent to hurt me, my family, my reputation and the Newport Beach Police Department through the media," he said. "Her character has once again shone through loud and clear by dismissing these allegations at the last minute, as the truth was bound to prevail sooner or later."

Johnson and other city officials have asserted for more than a year that Hougan's allegations were unfounded.

Hougan was fired in February 2012 for "behavioral issues," according to court documents. She had been a police department employee since 1990, working part time since 2001.

She alleged in court papers that she was fired because of her husband's whistle-blowing about police misconduct. John Hougan testified against the Police Department in a 2008 lawsuit filed by former Officer Neil Harvey, who said he was harassed and retaliated against because people believed he was gay. A jury awarded Harvey more than $1 million in 2009.

Johnson took over the department — which officers alleged had been riddled with corruption — in 2010.

City officials said John Hougan was fired in 2011 for inappropriate computer use, according to court documents. However, he alleged in a separate lawsuit that he faced retaliatory internal investigations and was ultimately terminated because of his involvement with previous lawsuits.

Christine Hougan's suit alleges that she was harassed after her husband was fired.

She said she suffered emotional distress in March 2011 after handling a call involving a young boy who had found his mother dead. The call, paired with the stress of her husband's firing, led her close to her "breaking point," according to emails found during an internal police investigation after she was fired.

Christine Hougan had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 1994 after her mother was raped and fatally beaten by an intruder in her home, according to court papers. Hougan also suffered from severe stress, depression and anxiety and was seeing a psychiatrist, court papers state.

Her lawsuit says the department fired her because "her mental disabilities made people uncomfortable."

However, the city contends she was terminated because she was disrupting the workplace. Other employees complained about her crying at work, court papers state.

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