Blowing up the doll

The state patrol probes blow-up doll.

AROUND THE OLYMPIA headquarters of the Washington State Patrol, the strange case of the inflatable doll is remembered for being both politically and anatomically correct. As a lame gag, the life-size female-shaped blow-up doll was left briefly in a co-ed staff rest room at one of the patrol's roadside truck-scale stations in 1998. It drew a few chuckles and was tossed out. But almost a year later, a supervisor saw passing mention of the doll in an officer's journal and launched an internal investigation. The accusation? Sexual harassment.

According to recently obtained copies of what turned out to be a sweeping review, male and female patrol officers and commercial-vehicle enforcement staffers had to give written statements, then were called in for taped interviews last year. Warned to tell the truth or face being fired, they were grilled at length about what they uniformly agreed was a practical joke at the weigh station—whose location the WSP would not disclose. Among other probing questions, the eyewitnesses were asked to ID the mystery "female."

Investigator: "What did the doll look like?"

Worker: "Well . . . it's a blow-up doll . . . it's a naked woman."

Investigator: "How large was the doll?"

Worker: "Uh, maybe 5 feet tall, 6 feet tall, something like that."

Another agreed the doll was 5 feet tall, but noted it was deflated at the time.

Investigator: "When you say deflated. . . ."

Worker: "There was no air in it."

Investigator: "Could you tell if the doll had hair on the top of the head?"

Worker: "It just looked like painted fake hair."

Investigator: "Do you recall the color . . .?"

Worker: "I think black."

Investigator: "How did you know it was female?"

Worker: "It had breasts."

Investigator: "And how would you describe the size of the breasts?"

Worker: "Uh . . ."

Investigator: "Small, medium, large?"

Worker: "I'd . . . I'd go with medium."

Investigator: "Could you please describe the face?"

Worker: "Just a woman's face, with the mouth wide open."

Several agreed the doll was found in the driveway (one had to mark an X on a scale house map for investigators) after "some trucker threw out his inflatable girlfriend." No one knew who hung it in the rest room before it was shortly tossed into a dumpster.

The internal probe plodded on for three months, produced at least 200 pages of documents and interview transcripts, and certainly sparked more sexual innuendo than the doll incident itself. The result? Like everyone said in the beginning, a deflated doll was left briefly in a rest room, drew a few chuckles, and was tossed out. Some thought it silly at best, but none of those interviewed, documents show, reported being offended.

Except, aha! Where was the paperwork? Did anyone investigate it back then? Or report it to higher-ups?

And for that, the weigh station's lieutenant was in trouble.

He faced three charges: dereliction of duty, violating patrol ethics standards, and failing to take action after discovering "racial, ethnic, or sexual harassment."

The lieutenant said he indeed took action. "The doll was a piece of garbage, and it was put where it deserved to be put, in a garbage can."

But according to WSP documents—with names and locations redacted—a WSP commander nonetheless decided the lieutenant was guilty of "a prima facie case of sexual harassment" as well as a "superficial and apathetic" reaction to it. "Displaying a sexually explicit inflatable doll on the agency's premises clearly conforms to the definition [of] a blatant form of sexual harassment."

Last November, after the lieutenant apologized and, according to the commander "was very humble and embarrassed [and] vowed that this would never happen again," all charges except the duty dereliction were dropped. He was given a three-day suspension by the office of Patrol Chief Annette Sandberg.

A spokesperson for the WSP's Office of Professional Standards says the patrol "takes all internal incidents seriously and investigates them thoroughly, as a matter of policy."

Still, workers at the weigh station seemed to be wondering what all the fuss was about.

Those who saw the doll, said one officer, "thought it was funny because when you're in our business and you get in the cab of a truck, you find a lot of things that are a lot more objectionable than an inflatable doll. There are plastic sex toys and filthy pictures and Lord knows what they have in there!"

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