Crime

KCK police fired cadet after she reported sexual assault by her supervisor: lawsuit

KCK police officer committed sexual battery against a co-worker, prosecutor says

Steven Rios, a Kansas City, Kan., police officer has been charged with sexual battery against a co-worker. He allegedly committed the crime while on duty, said Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree during a press conference Tuesday.
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Steven Rios, a Kansas City, Kan., police officer has been charged with sexual battery against a co-worker. He allegedly committed the crime while on duty, said Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree during a press conference Tuesday.

A Kansas City, Kansas, police cadet says she was fired after pressing sexual battery charges against her supervisor, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas Wednesday.

The cadet had delayed reporting the abuse for fear of retaliation within the department, as her lawsuit describes, and ultimately found the fear justified when the Police Chief Terry Zeigler fired her for “exaggerated cause” following the criminal prosecution of her attacker.

In December, Kansas City, Kansas, police officer Steven Rios received 12 months probation for misdemeanor battery of a young cadet whom he supervised.

He was not required to register as a sex offender as a result of his sentence.

Rios was a supervisor of cadet training and an instructor who could influence whether cadets were admitted to the police academy.

“Sexual harassment does real damage to women,” the cadet’s lawyer, Tim Riemann, said in a statement to the Star.

“It stands to reason that the damage is even greater when suffered by a teenager in one of her first professional settings.”

The Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County did not immediately respond to the Star’s request for comment.

It is unclear whether Rios is still employed by the police department.

Rios’s Kansas Peace Officer certification is in good standing despite his conviction, according to Gary Steed, Executive Director of the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training.

The day after the cadet joined the program last summer she was warned by a coworker that Rios had a reputation of “directing unwanted attention toward female cadets,” the lawsuit said.

After that conversation Rios consistently asked the woman to ride with him in his car alone while sending the male cadets in another vehicle. Once a month he also asked her to accompany him to retrieve a trailer for agility training while the male cadets stayed behind.

During those encounters Rios spoke to the cadet in sexually-charged language, asked invasive questions about her sexual preferences and history, and touched her in sexual and unwanted manners, the lawsuit says.

In March 2018 another officer saw Rios sexually assault the cadet.

The cadet told that other officer she did not want to report Rios because she was afraid reporting the situation would cost her her job, the lawsuit says.

The other officer, however, reported what he saw to his supervisors at the police department, who started an investigation.

In April the cadet met with police detectives about the sexual harassment and later met with Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree. According to the lawsuit, the woman met with Dupree and reported Rios’s behavior despite not wanting to press charges.

She eventually agreed to participate in the investigation.

After Rios was charged with sexual battery on May 7, the lawsuit said, the cadet’s car was covered in salsa and she received threatening text messages. The lawsuit said she believes this was an attempt to get her to quit the cadet program.

In June the woman was called into the office of Police Chief Terry Zeigler to discuss her deficiencies as a cadet. She was fired later that month.

The cadet is suing the Unified Government for sexual harassment and retaliation, and is suing Rios for violation of her right to bodily integrity.

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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.

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