'I was sexually harassed by Joe Shannon, District Attorney'

Posted Friday, Jan. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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This report contains sexually explicit material.

The personal journal of former Assistant District Attorney Sabrina Sabin, made public Friday, explicitly details alleged sexual harassment by Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon, conduct that went on from 2008 until January 2012 and made her life "unbearable."

In handwritten entries, Sabin describes how Shannon repeatedly made comments about her body, touched her and used sexual language while he was her boss.

In September, Sabin received a $375,000 settlement of her harassment claim against Shannon and the county. More than 100 pages of documents detailing the allegations were released after the Star-Telegram and other media outlets made an open-records request and the Texas attorney general ruled that they be made available.

"Joe would constantly make comments about my breasts and tell me he would like to see them, touch them," Sabin wrote. "He would say things like, 'If you ever decide to surprise me and show them to me, no one has to know.'

"What the hell was I supposed to say to that?" wrote Sabin, 44, who has been married for 20 years and has two college-age children. "I knew that if I said anything or made an issue out of being sexually harassed, that I would possible loose [sic] my job or that he would make my life miserable. I just kept quite [sic] and continued to focus on doing my job well."

During another meeting in Shannon's office, Sabin said, she was looking over his shoulder at his computer screen.

"He said, 'You're going to get yourself f----d if your [sic] not careful,'" Sabin wrote. "I didn't know what to say. Things are never going to change. This is never going to get better until he is gone."

Shannon, 72, released a statement Friday that again denied the allegations and said he disagreed with the county's decision to settle the case.

"An objective review of the documents will clearly demonstrate what I have said all along -- there are two sides to this controversy," Shannon said. "The claims have been vigorously denied and disputed."

Shannon said Sabin's sexual harassment complaint, first raised in March 2012, was "a complete surprise" and came "on the heels of some job reassignments." That month, Sabin had been transferred from economic crimes to a trial court.

In his statement, Shannon said he disagreed with the settlement.

"I realize that the county viewed the settlement from a business viewpoint," Shannon said. "However, some who want to believe the worst will view the payment of any sum as an admission of wrongdoing. The [settlement] states that all parties agreed that no such inference should be made nor was it intended by the parties."

According to the documents, Sabin used Shannon as a reference to obtain a job with the district attorney's office in 2005. She was a 2004 graduate of Texas Wesleyan University Law School, where Shannon also taught. Emails written by Sabin's supervisors, also released Friday, reflect their concerns about her work habits in April 2012 and suspicions that Sabin was taking drugs.

Sabin filed a formal complaint with the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission in May, saying, "I was sexually harassed by Joe Shannon ... in forms of unwelcomed sexual comments, inappropriate physical contact, and propositions for a sexual relationship. I complained of the sexual harassment ... and have been retaliated against."

In an interview Friday, Sabin said she stands by the contents of her journal.

"I would take a lie detector test," she said. "It's 100 percent accurate. I would never back down from anything I said, because it's true."

She said criticism of her work habits did not begin until after she filed her complaint against the county's chief law enforcement officer.

"I guess I would find it disturbing and confusing that they would make derogatory remarks about my performance when everything until that point in my evaluations would reflect nothing but a stellar employee," she said.

A series of positive performance evaluations, all administered before Sabin filed her complaint, were among the documents released.

Shannon, who has practiced law in Tarrant County for almost five decades, was appointed district attorney by Gov. Rick Perry after the 2009 death of Tim Curry. Shannon was elected to a four-year term in 2010.

The announcement of the September settlement with Sabin included few details about the nature of her allegations or whether they were aimed specifically at Shannon.

All parties agreed to a confidentiality clause prohibiting them from talking about the case. The Star-Telegram's open-records request sought the nature of Sabin's complaint and the amount of taxpayer money spent on the investigation and the defense.

In October, Tarrant County released documents showing that, in addition to the settlement, nearly $100,000 in public money had been spent on the case. The county refused to release additional information and sought an opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott in an attempt to keep it private.

"Obviously, the nature of the alleged harassment and content of the requested information is of an intimate nature and clearly not the public's concern," Assistant District Attorney Ashley Fourt wrote to Abbott in October.

Sabin joined the district attorney's office in the misdemeanor division, she said in her journal.

"It was where I had always wanted to be and it was doing exactly what I wanted to do," she said of her job as a prosecutor. "I saw Joe from time to time. But not on any regular basis. We would have lunch, email or talk once a month or so."

Shortly after she was promoted to the felony division, Sabin said, Shannon approached her about working in the economic crimes unit, where he was the chief.

"It wasn't until I moved into the new position under Joe Shannon that things at work started becoming uncomfortable and at times unbearable and stressful," Sabin wrote. "Things started w/ [sic] comments about how nice I looked and progressively got worse."

Before a meeting in 2008, she wrote, "When I turned around, Joe slapped my ass. I could not believe what had just happened."

During a business trip to San Antonio that summer, Shannon asked her to his room for drinks. She declined.

"Comments about seeing my breasts and how good they look continue on a weekly basis after we return," she said.

Sabin said other attorneys often witnessed Shannon's behavior, which continued over the next three years and allegedly included inappropriate touching and descriptions of erotic dreams.

"One other very important comment was when Joe had won the election runoff," Sabin wrote. "He said he 'felt like f-----g' and made a thrusting movement. I stood there, disgusted, and said nothing."

Sabin said Shannon's behavior ended in January 2012, three months before she first complained to senior lawyers Ann Diamond and Marvin Collins in the district attorney's office.

"Marvin suggested that I go downstairs to my new court where Sheila Wynn was chief and ... do a good job," Sabin wrote. "I told both of them that I was not stupid and I knew that somehow slowly my reviews would get worse -- or -- issues would come up in an effort to get rid of me and that was unacceptable."

An April 18 email written by supervisor Betty Arvin described a meeting with Arvin, Wynn and Sabin.

"Her eyes were glassy and some words were slurred and her speech ranged from singsong to harsh," Arvin wrote about Sabin.

"I explained to her that we and others were concerned about her. ... She did not like the fact that people were saying she was using drugs. She said she takes prescription drugs, but 'who doesn't?'"

On Friday, Sabin said that characterization was inaccurate.

"That people would spread lies and rumors and say you're doing drugs is very upsetting to me," she said.

Sabin said she is not currently practicing law.

"I felt like I needed some time to de-stress, rest and get my health back together," she said.

Tim Madigan, 817-390-7544

Twitter: @tsmadigan

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