LELAND, NC (WWAY) -- Former Leland Police officer Sherry Lewis says she has been to hell and back in the last couple of years. For the first time since settling her harassment claim with the town of Leland, Lewis is talking about her experience in the Leland Police Department.
She says things were so bad that she no longer feared what she would come across on the street, but what she had to face inside the station.
March 10 was no different.
Officers were scheduled to participate in a new training simulation exercise. Lewis and other officers agreed that this was going to be another situation where she was targeted.
"I knew how things were and how I was generally targeted and how they felt about me and that they would probably target me to drive me away and humiliate me," Lewis said. "I knew it was coming. This was typical. This was not new to me."
Lewis says during the exercises, she was shot about eight times between her legs before the group broke for lunch. She says she asked the sergeant who was shooting her repeatedly, who we've learned was Mike Landen, to stop shooting her in the crotch because she did not know how much more she could take.
"At this point it was so painful. That's when I had asked them to please stop it, but, of course, they laughed and giggled and just added to my embarrassment," Lewis said.
Lewis says she did not stop participating and tried to ignore the pain. When she was shot in the crotch about four more times, she said she finally broke.
"It hurt pretty bad," she said. "If I describe what I said or did at that moment, I basically clenched my fists and my teeth, swore under my breath, as the two lieutenants were on either side of me yelling and just demeaning me and humiliating me as the other officers watched."
Lewis says after that, her supervisors told her to leave immediately. Because she had ridden with other officers, she was left without a ride home and was made to walk, which only made her injuries worse.
"My pants were sticking to the little cuts, and every time I'd move my legs it'd pull out of the cuts and make it bleed more. It hurt horribly. The only way I could walk was with my feet apart and I had to walk quite a distance," Lewis said.
After calling her son to pick her up in Kure Beach, Lewis says she called Leland Mayor Pro Tem Brenda Bozeman.
"I poured my heart out," Lewis said. "I told her everything that had happened. Everything that had been happening. I told her I had to resign. I could not face them again. Could I please please turn my badge, my gun, everything from the department into her? That I could never walk into the department again. I couldn't look these men in the eye again."
Lewis says Bozeman told her she needed to make some calls and would get back to her. She never did.
Lewis got a call from Police Chief Tim Jayne an hour later. She says he told her he met with Bozeman and Leland Town Manager Bill Farris to discuss what happened.
Other than giving her statement to the then assistant town manager, Lewis says she never heard from anyone of authority in Leland again. Lewis says that's when she got her attorney involved. She says she wanted the people responsible for the issues in the police department held accountable.
"This was not about money," Lewis said. "Not once during the whole process did I tell my attorney, 'I want X amount of dollars. I want money, money, money.' This was never about the money. This was about righting a wrong, keeping my reputation in tact so that I could continue to do the job I was sworn to do at another department, and also to make sure that the officers that remained there didn't have to keep going through what they're going through."
Lewis says she knows the abuse at the training session was no accident. She says to her knowledge Landen was never disciplined for his involvement.
"I have several witnesses that are sworn officers that heard the planning and actually heard after the fact when I was made to leave the facility that they had done it and it was funny to them," Lewis said. "This was not a training accident. This was an intentional act against me."
Lewis says she was going to try to wait out the bad apples, but she could not stand the situation any longer. She now hopes that by sharing her story, other officers will come forward so that the truth will come out and Leland will have a reliable department again. For now though, she says some cops are not living up to the standards they swore to uphold.
"We, as police officers, are held to a higher standard than your average citizens," Lewis said. "We are the sheep dogs. When the sheep dog becomes the wolf, who do you turn to?"
We've tried to talk with town leaders in Leland, including Jayne, Farris and Bozeman, about what happened to Lewis. They have all refused to discuss the situation citing personnel confidentiality.