It wasn’t just that he referred to a female colleague as a “bitch.” Or that a woman complained he made her uncomfortable by looking at her legs and commenting on her skin color during a shift. And it wasn’t just that a new female cadet felt she was receiving extra attention from him compared to her male peers.

Police staff and people who work with the New Bedford Police Department say they have left their positions on specialized units or avoided shifts after feeling uncomfortable with inappropriate behavior by supervisor Sgt. Samuel Ortega.

Those are some of the findings contained in a 221-page report newly obtained by The Light after the city tried to withhold it. The report, written by an outside attorney who investigated complaints from three women last fall, concluded that Ortega violated the city’s anti-harassment policy on two allegations among the several brought forth by the complainants.

The investigator’s only recommended disciplinary action was for Ortega to receive sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training, which is already required of all city staff. The city had previously assigned the online training to Ortega in May of 2022. But not until February, after the investigative report was issued that same month, did he complete it, according to a city spokesperson and emails obtained by The Light. 

Excerpt of report, noting the investigator’s recommendations for discipline. (Jane Medeiros Friedman, 2023)

Email sent to Sgt. Ortega from personnel’s Judith Keating about one week after the investigator submitted her report. 

Other documents obtained through public records requests show this is not the first time women have complained of harassment by Ortega, who became an officer in the department in 1998. 

Seven years ago, the police department opened an internal affairs case after a woman with whom Ortega also worked — then a security officer at a local high school — filed a complaint against him alleging verbal abuse and harassment spanning three years. At that time, he served as the school resource officer supervisor. People interviewed by investigators as part of that case also alleged issues with his conduct around school staff and students. 

A school resource officer (SRO) told investigators that a female teacher at a New Bedford middle school filed a complaint with another SRO regarding Ortega. Internal affairs investigators did not interview the other SRO about that allegation, according to their report, and ultimately found the other allegations — including those from the complainant — either unfounded, exonerated, or not sustained, meaning there was not enough evidence to prove or disprove certain statements. 

The Light spoke with a former internal affairs investigator, who, after reviewing the 2016 case file, said the case was not thoroughly investigated by internal affairs, based on an apparent lack of interviews with other witnesses or follow up with the middle school teacher or SRO on the alleged complaint. The former investigator, who did not want to be named out of fear of retaliation, also said at least one of the allegations of harassment should have been sustained as two officers largely corroborated the complainant’s allegation that Ortega cautioned her about losing weight because it could affect either her chest or buttocks. 

Ortega did not respond this week to an interview request and an emailed list of questions about the allegations and findings. 


Police Chief Paul Oliveira also did not respond to an interview request and a list of questions. In response to an earlier request for an interview, a police department spokesperson said by email that Chief Oliveira has discussed The Light’s request with the personnel department director, and consistent with her guidance “will not be discussing any matters involving personnel.”

“[I]t’s clear to him that he would have nothing more to add in terms of your inquiry.  Again, he will not comment on this matter that was handled by the city’s personnel office,” the spokesperson said after another follow-up inquiry.   

According to records from NBPD, there have been 10 internal affairs cases against Ortega for a variety of alleged violations since he started serving in the 1990s, but most were not-sustained, exonerated or unfounded.

In the 2023 case, though Ortega acknowledged calling one of the female complainants a “bitch” in the presence of another officer, the investigator said she was unable to find sufficient credible evidence that he violated the city’s anti-harassment policy for that incident based on a “single derogatory statement.” But the city’s policy, which the investigator, Jane Medeiros Friedman, included in her report, defines harassment as including “slurs, derogatory comments or insults.”

Excerpt from Friedman’s 2023 investigative report 

Friedman told The Light by email that she did not find a violation of the city’s anti-harassment policy, in part due to the context of a misunderstanding between the complainant and Ortega as it regarded preparing a grant for a department program. 

“I found Sgt. Ortega’s statement was the result of frustration with the situation and his belief that his efforts were being undermined,” she wrote. “While his statement was unprofessional, based on the totality of the circumstances, I did not find that this one statement was sufficient to find a violation.”

Friedman concluded she was unable to independently confirm several allegations due to there being no independent witnesses and Ortega denying the allegations or saying he did not recall them. But she found sufficient evidence that he violated the city’s anti-harassment policy regarding two of the several allegations brought forth among the three complainants, including on his discussion of rumors about an alleged romantic relationship between colleagues. 

Excerpt from Friedman’s 2023 investigative report 

“It’s so unfortunate that in 2023, we would as a police department … put up with any behavior like this,” said a New Bedford police officer, who requested anonymity for concern over retaliation. “For the city to say he violated one of the numerous policies and we’re gonna give him training was them … trying to take the heat off of something they realized people wouldn’t let go.”

How New Bedford defines harassment  

The city’s online training defines harassment and discrimination, discusses legal protections (on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, etc.), and details the impacts of harassment on employees and organizations. It also focuses on prevention through knowledge and recognition of improper behavior.

For example, under the sex section, the training states, “Negative gender stereotypes which focus on how men and women should or should not act are often at the center of the harassment.” Both the 2016 and 2023 investigative reports detail allegations against Ortega from women, with most of their names redacted.

The Light in an email asked Ortega why he did not do the assigned online training in 2022. He did not respond. 

The Light asked Chief Oliveira if Ortega received any discipline besides training, and if he was aware Ortega had not completed sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training last year. He did not respond.

The city’s anti-harassment training notes the importance of perception, stating that behavior does not have to be intentional to be considered harassment, and that it’s tied with how the behavior is perceived by the individual claiming harassment.

Excerpt from Friedman’s 2023 investigative report 

“It shows kind of the perniciousness of ongoing harassment and how it’s really hard to pinpoint,” said Margo Lindauer, a professor at the Northeastern University School of Law. “Society wants a smoking gun … or a really egregious incident as we define egregious, but the kind of ongoing subtle nature is what most workplace harassment looks like.”

Lindauer said gender-based harassment for a long time was socially accepted, and served as the impetus for the #MeToo movement, in which women across the world publicly shared their experiences with sexual harassment, which includes gender-based harassment. 

Researchers say gender-based harassment is linked with reductions in job satisfaction, detracts from job performance, causes distress, and can lead to job withdrawal — meaning employees leave their position or organization. 

Individuals interviewed as part of the investigation this year said they pulled back from programs overseen by Ortega or told their supervisors they did not want to be alone with him or work with him due to discomfort with his behavior. A woman, whose name is redacted, told the investigator that she stopped taking shifts on the outreach and mental health teams, but would be interested in returning if someone else led the programs, instead of Ortega.

Those statements parallel comments in the 2016 report, in which the complainant said she shared her discomfort about Ortega with her supervisor, and a school resource officer reportedly asked investigators if Ortega could be removed.  

Research shows gender harassment is far more prevalent than other forms of sexual harassment, such as sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention, according to Lilia Cortina, a psychology and women’s and gender studies professor at the University of Michigan.

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“[I]t seldom breaks through to public awareness,” she wrote in a 2021 research paper, “it rarely finds its ways into media headlines or high-profile court cases.”

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, between 2018 and 2021, nearly 80% of sexual harassment charges in the workplace were filed by women. Cortina and other researchers note it is more prevalent in male-dominant work environments. 

Currently, men outnumber women in the New Bedford Police Department 195 to 14, according to a department spokesperson.

There are at least a dozen instances in Friedman’s summary of interviews that capture interviewees (many documented with the “she” pronoun) sharing they felt uncomfortable with Ortega’s behavior. Due to redactions, it is unclear how many women said that; Friedman interviewed 11 people, including Ortega.

Click through slideshow to view more files: There are at least one dozen instances in Friedman’s summary of interviews that capture interviewees sharing that they felt uncomfortable with Ortega’s behavior. Due to redactions, it is unclear how many women are represented in these excerpts; Friedman interviewed 11 people, including Ortega, according to her 2023 report.

It appears several of the allegations and concerns were raised by women who worked alongside Ortega for the programs he supervises. 

Those programs include the state-funded mental health outreach unit, which works with individuals experiencing mental health crises; the LEAD Diversion and post-overdose programs, which partner with the Bristol County district attorney’s office and a clinic, respectively, to help people with substance use disorder; and an outreach van that helps those experiencing homelessness. 

One female clinician told Friedman that she was uncomfortable working with Ortega after seeing how he spoke to a client. The clinician alleged that during an outreach shift, she and Ortega visited the home of an 18-year-old transgender individual, who had the week prior made suicidal statements. 

The clinician alleges Ortega told the transgender individual that they couldn’t bum around all day, after he asked if they were in school or had a job. The partnering mental health services organization received a complaint about the visit shortly after, according to the report. 

Ortega’s partially redacted notes that appear to be about the same outreach visit state he used the term “bummy,” and that no offense was intended.

Department’s handling

According to the 2023 report, an “informal complaint,” about an incident in which Ortega allegedly made comments about a female colleague’s body during a shift was communicated in NBPD in October 2022. Per records obtained by The Light, an investigation into alleged misconduct was opened in December 2022, after two other women complained about Ortega’s behavior.

Chief Oliveira did not respond to questions asking what, if anything, was done with the October “informal complaint” — including if any supervisors looked into it and documented what they found, and if they took any action on it before the December complaints were issued.

Chief Oliveira received a complaint by email in December, which he forwarded a few days later to Judith Keating, director of the personnel department. Keating referred it to the city solicitor’s office, according to an interview, which then assigned the case to an outside attorney (Friedman, who formerly worked for the city of New Bedford). 

Friedman’s investigation ran from December to February of this year, costing just over $20,000. Holly Huntoon, a city spokesperson, said in an email that the solicitor’s office uses several law firms for outside counsel, and noted the solicitor’s office has an allocation in the budget for such work. Friedman, she said, was used because she specializes in municipal and employment law.

The Light asked Chief Oliveira why the case was assigned to an outside investigator, and not undertaken by the police department’s internal affairs unit. He did not respond.

The 2016 harassment complaint was investigated by the department’s internal affairs unit. Regarding other allegations, including that Ortega made a claw gesture with his hand and a “tiger-like” sound in the face of the female complainant who was criticizing a female presenter, the investigators wrote: “At this point Sgt. Ortega’s behavior is questionable or even peculiar, but it does not rise to the level of mistreatment or malice.”

Excerpt from 2016 NBPD internal affairs report 

Officers interviewed for that investigation shared allegations about Ortega’s behavior towards school staff and students. 

Oliveira, then the deputy chief, signed an order for Ortega’s transfer from his SRO supervisor position to a temporary assignment in communications dated days before the new school year was set to start in 2016 (and about one month after investigators interviewed witnesses). 

The Light asked Chief Oliveira and Ortega about Ortega’s transfer. They did not respond. 

One school resource officer, when interviewed by investigators, said she was concerned by an incident that allegedly happened involving Ortega, a female high school student, and a video, which she said she viewed at least in part. 

Chief Oliveira, who was a captain and the commanding officer of the internal affairs division through 2016, undertook a “fact-finding” effort with a sergeant and found there was insufficient evidence to pursue an investigation into the video, the report states. 

Chief Oliveira did not answer questions about the fact-finding effort he undertook and what he found (or did not find). Ortega did not respond to a question about the alleged video. 

The Light requested an interview with New Bedford Public Schools about the SRO allegations and an alleged complaint from a middle school teacher against Ortega years ago. 

Arthur Motta, NBPS spokesperson, said by email that an SRO is an employee of NBPD, “Perhaps you should contact the City/NBPD HR Department(s).” After repeated follow-up emails with questions and a request for an interview or comment, Motta said by email again that The Light’s inquiries should be directed to NBPD. 

SRO allegations were brought up in this year’s report by interviewees, and when Friedman asked Ortega about his SRO supervisor position, Ortega told her that it “wasn’t a good fit.” Per the report, he told then-Deputy Chief Oliveira that he would like to “step down” from the position.

Amid this recent investigation into Ortega, the New Bedford Police Department has been facing two civil lawsuits in Bristol County Superior Court — both filed by former New Bedford police officers in 2021. One, filed by a woman, alleges gender discrimination. The other, filed by a man, alleges discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and named Chief Oliveira as one of the defendants. The lawsuits are ongoing. 

Email Anastasia E. Lennon at

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  1. IA does absolutely nothing in every state. Do no real work and when retired IA officers are worried about retaliation which is common for anyone who reports how can the regular citizen be safe?

    1. Your absolutely correct undercover! This guys are all in bed with each other and have covered up NB police dirty secrets for years. Bunch of Sgt. Schulz’s! I know nothing…lol

  2. Wow! Another gene gomes and these cops knew nothing? Please you got the police chief who came up with and is good friends with this convicted peodiphile and now once good ole sgt. Ortega is “retired on disability” he speaks out? Business as usual in new Bedford

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