CROSSVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A former Cumberland County commissioner and Solid Waste Department director convicted of sexually assaulting multiple women who worked with him was handed a lengthy prison sentence on Thursday.
Michael Harvel, 61, was convicted on nine counts of sexual assault and sentenced to 17 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release. He had faced up to life in prison.
He was found guilty of sexually assaulting seven women who worked under his supervision at the Cumberland County Recycling Center. Evidence provided in the trial included testimony from 13 women who described the county official abusing his authority to sexually assault his subordinates.
Several victims were sent to the facility as part of court-ordered community service and required to keep a job as a term of probation. A DOJ release said the victims 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.
According to witness testimony at trial, Harvel locked the door of his office orally raped a victim who stopped by at the end of the day under the guise of discussing a job opportunity. 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.”
“Michael Harvel is a predator who used his position of authority to victimize vulnerable women,” said U.S. Attorney Henry Leventis for the Middle District of Tennessee. “I am extremely proud of the work our office did, alongside our partners at the Civil Rights Division and FBI, to hold this him accountable and to stand up for the rights of the victims.”
“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 Justice Department secured $1.1 million from Cumberland County to resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2021. The lawsuit alleged, among other things, that county leaders failed to take adequate precautions to prevent Harvel from sexually harassing women he supervised as the solid waste director. According to the complaint, Harvel regularly subjected the women to unwanted sexual contact, including kissing and groping, and to unwelcome sexual advances.