Mesa police Officer Elisha Gibbs hadn’t even met Officer Jeffrey Neese when he texted her for the first time.
Neese sent a text message to congratulate her after she finished testing for a new role at the department’s training academy. Neese sat on the proficiency board and offered her a few pointers on how she could improve.
Gibbs thanked him. She had high respect for him as the head of SWAT and as a trainer.
Then she mentioned her wife, Detective Christen Rope, and Neese’s texts took an explicit turn.
“There’s no way I could be in charge of you two,” Neese texted Gibbs. “You’re both too hot. It would be too distracting.”
Gibbs was used to the jokes, though. She’s grown a thick skin as one of the few women in law enforcement — especially since she is married to another female officer. She laughed off Neese’s message, thinking he would take the hint.
But the messages only grew worse, she and Rope told The Arizona Republic in an exclusive interview. Neese continued to text Gibbs sexually explicit messages over the next few months.
“I did really think about you guys three times though. I made a mess!” Neese texted Gibbs in reference to her and Rope.
And, according to a notice of claim served to Mesa on Thursday, Gibbs was just one of the four women Neese sexually harassed with graphic messages and predatory behavior.
Gibbs and the other women allege Mesa and the Police Department failed to adequately discipline Neese for sexual harassment.
Neese’s attorney did not respond to The Republic’s request for comment.
A spokesman for the city said they are aware of the allegations, but cannot comment on the matter or Neese’s specific discipline due to possible pending litigation.
The group, which included six women, and a male officer who said Neese harassed his wife, is asking the city for $150,000 per claimant — a total of more than $1 million — to settle the case.
‘It was completely inappropriate’
Gibbs was mindful of the fact that Neese was her superior. Her wife aspired to be on the SWAT team one day and she worried confronting him or reporting his behavior to a superior could ruin the chances of that.
The messages grew worse.
Text messages included in the notice of claim show Neese would often follow up the initial message by questioning whether he “said too much” or “crossed the line.”
“I was just thinking of you watching me jerk off and it was intense how much came out and how strong it was,” he texted Gibbs.
He sent a follow-up text after he realized Gibbs was ignoring him: “I give too many details. Sorry.”
Gibbs worried she was somehow encouraging this behavior. Rope assured her that wasn’t the case — it was Neese doing something wrong.
“We weren’t sure how to proceed with him other than to disengage with him,” Rope said.
Neese never mentioned any of the text messages in person or acted differently to Gibbs when she ran into him at the academy, she said. Neese was perceived as a well-liked, married family man, Gibbs said.
At one point, Neese asked Gibbs for a photo of her, her wife and another officer because he said he wanted to draw them as superheroes. She sent him a photo of the three of them completely clothed.
He presented her with a picture of the three of them naked.
“It was completely inappropriate, but I felt at that point, what would be done if I said something?” Gibbs questioned. “Everyone would be pissed off that we’re trying to get a sergeant in trouble.”
‘There has to be a problem with this guy’
Gibbs later learned Neese’s behavior wasn’t an isolated thing, she said. Officers Ashley Elliff and Cindy Martinez also experienced the same behavior.
They reported it to the city’s human resources department in August.
Documents from the investigation show Neese denied their accusations or alleged that the women made them up. He also defended himself by saying the women should have told him if they were uncomfortable.
“Criminals do that type of behavior — predators,” Gibbs said. “For him to think he can do that — and I don’t know how many years he’s gotten away with it — there has to be a problem with this guy.”
At this point, the earliest-known occurrence of Neese’s harassing behavior occurred in 2014. Neese was hired by the Mesa Police Department in 1999.
“The numbers just keep growing,” Rope said. “I’m sure we’re not the only ones.”
The city’s human resources department announced the allegations were sustained in October.
Initially, Neese was going to be moved to a sergeant position in the patrol department in addition to receiving a 50-hour unpaid suspension as discipline. He was pulled from SWAT, but the suspension was postponed after another victim came forward.
Amanda Cook received similar graphic messages to her personal phone, according to the legal documents. He even including emojis insinuating he was masturbating.
Cook’s allegations were also sustained by HR. However, the city ultimately decided Neese would keep his job, but be demoted to an officer within the patrol division. Gibbs said city officials told her they were limited by policy and prior precedent.
“How many people do you think it’s going to take for the city to no longer expose its employees to him?” Gibbs’ attorney, David Lunn, said.
Both Gibbs and Rope said this was a chance to prove the department truly had a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment. Instead, it failed.
Neese could still come into contact with the women in his new role. They also voiced concerns about his contact with the public.
“By having Officer Neese back in a patrol car and on the streets, the City of Mesa has failed to protect Claimants and the general public,” the notice of claim alleges. “Officer Neese has unequivocally demonstrated that he is unable or unwilling to control his sexual harassment of his fellow female police officers or even the general public.”
Neese will be eligible for promotion in a few years, meaning he could return to the same position he was demoted from.
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