Former Cumberland County Official Sentenced To Federal Prison For Civil Rights Violations
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Tennessee
Assaulted Seven Women in a County Facility
NASHVILLE – A former county commissioner and director of the Solid Waste Department in Cumberland County, Tennessee, was sentenced today to 17 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release for sexually assaulting seven women who worked under his supervision at the Cumberland County Recycling Center.
Michael Harvel, 61, was previously convicted on nine counts of committing sexual assault. According to evidence introduced at trial – including testimony from 13 women who described Harvel’s sexual abuse – Harvel abused his authority as a county official to sexually assault women who worked under his control at the recycling center. Many of Harvel’s victims were sent to the recycling center to serve court-ordered community service, were required to keep a job as a term of their probation or were otherwise vulnerable because they struggled with substance abuse, were impoverished, or were sole caregivers for their dependents. The jury convicted Harvel of four counts of sexual assault that included kidnapping and three counts that included aggravated sexual abuse.
"Michael Harvel is a predator who used his position of authority to victimize vulnerable women," said U.S. Attorney Henry Leventis. "I am extremely proud of the work our office did, alongside our partners at the Civil Rights Division and FBI, to hold him accountable and to stand up for the rights of the victims."
According to witness testimony at trial, Harvel told one victim to stop by his office at the end of the day, purportedly to discuss a job opportunity, then locked the door to his office and orally raped the woman. He falsely told a second victim that he needed her help with a county work project, then drove her to an isolated landfill in the woods and raped her in a guard shack. The jury also heard evidence that Harvel covered up his pattern of behavior by threatening his victims and other employees so that they would not report his crimes.
“The defendant abused his official position and authority to deprive the victims of their constitutionally-protected right to bodily integrity,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “While this sentence can’t undo the extraordinary pain and suffering the defendant caused these women, it should send a clear message to public officials they are not above the law and will be held accountable when they sexually assault and abuse people subject to their authority.”
“This sentencing should send a clear message that the FBI makes it a priority to bring to justice anyone who violates the civil rights of those they are sworn to protect,” said Special Agent in Charge Douglas S. DePodesta of the FBI Memphis Field Office. “The FBI is committed to protecting the civil rights of all people and will continue to vigorously investigate these kinds of cases alongside our local, state and federal partners.”
The FBI Memphis Field Office investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brooke Schiferle for the Middle District of Tennessee and Special Litigation Counsel Michael J. Songer and Trial Attorney Laura-Kate Bernstein of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.
In 2021, in a separate civil action, the Justice Department secured $1.1 million from Cumberland County to resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged, among other things, that Cumberland County failed to take adequate precautions to prevent Harvel, as the director of the county’s Solid Waste Department, from sexually harassing women he supervised. According to the complaint, Harvel regularly subjected the women to unwanted sexual contact, including kissing and groping, and to unwelcome sexual advances.
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Public Affairs Officer
Updated April 20, 2023