KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — A veteran Knoxville police sergeant's roll call demonstration on how to force a woman to have oral sex shocked and disgusted many when hidden video surfaced in June.
Sgt. Bobby Maxwell's conduct, first reported by WBIR, reverberates three months later, with candidates for Knoxville mayor and City Council questioning the quality and rigor of KPD's training, among other topics.
And Maxwell's behavior -- in front of a room of officers -- also raises questions among some about KPD's culture. Is there something about the department that makes the mostly male force think it's OK to talk, even in a joking manner, about forced sex? Do officers understand they're held to a higher standard, and that they're expected to refrain from unbecoming conduct?
A WBIR investigation shows at least 10 department personnel, mostly male officers, have been investigated internally since 2014 for complaints of sex-related conduct.
Records requested by 10News show one officer fondled a woman in her home after seeing her late one night at a gas station. Another veteran pushed hard to have a fling with a North Knoxville woman who flagged him down for help with an unruly grandchild, records show.
One officer eagerly sought a relationship with a prostitute, asking for nude photos; another sent messages offering money for sex with a male thru the gay dating site Grindr, records show.
A third sent an unsolicited photo of his penis to a county school security officer.
Three employees got caught up in a kind of triangle. The woman and a lieutenant traded flirty messages while on duty, and the woman had an affair with a sergeant who drove his department cruiser twice for motel trysts, reports show.
A police recruit also was caught by his wife emailing Craigslist looking for women willing to have sex. She reported him, which ultimately led to him leaving the force.
Most of those who came under scrutiny quit before investigations ended, records show. A few remain on staff.
KPD Chief Eve Thomas declined through spokesman Scott Erland to be interviewed. Erland, however, issued a statement on her behalf.
He said Thomas "categorically and emphatically" dismisses the idea that there's any kind of culture problem at KPD. As with any organization, however, KPD relies on human beings, and human beings sometimes go astray, according to the department.
Personnel are held accountable for what they do, according to Erland's statement.
"We stand behind the decisiveness of our actions when complaints of alleged misconduct are received and the thoroughness with which those investigations are conducted. We act with transparency and integrity before, during and after those investigations, and in carrying out our everyday responsibilities. And, as history shows, those that act in a way that is detrimental to our pursuit of excellence are held accountable for their actions or separated from the department," the statement reads.
"The men and women of KPD have selflessly devoted their lives to protecting and serving the Knoxville community. Suggesting that there is a broad cultural problem takes the missteps of a few and impugns an entire department. This misperception sows seeds of distrust, resentment and antagonism amongst those we serve."
Veteran Knoxville attorney Dennis Francis has represented many police officers through the decades, often when they've been wrongly accused.
Officers are often targets of complaints because of their role in society, he said.
Francis said he couldn't say accusations of improper conduct happen more often at police departments.
"I don’t know that you can just say law enforcement has a disproportionate amount of claims -- if you look into the amount of people they come into contact with every day," he said.
Maxwell, a 25-year veteran, retired days after the cellphone video of him at roll call surfaced.
Lt. Travis Brasfield, his supervisor, blew the whistle in June, filing an Internal Affairs complaint. Brasfield, an attorney, also raised questions about how the department had dealt this year with an officer who was having an affair with a Knox County deputy's wife and how administrators were responding to a woman's accusations that she'd traded sex for a break on her marijuana case with another patrolman.
Days after filing the complaints, Brasfield suddenly quit, citing department reprisals. The Internal Affairs investigation into issues raised by Brasfield is ongoing. There's no set date for its completion, according to Erland.
Thomas said in July and reiterated to WBIR for this report that she is considering "an adjustment" to department sexual harassment training once the IA investigation is done.
"Our primary responsibility is to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the various allegations, and that takes a tremendous amount of time and effort," the department's statement reads.
This week, Erland issued a statement saying that an unnamed key witness was refusing to cooperate but that the department was committed to carrying on with the investigation. The review stems from Brasfield's accusations and recorded conversations with fellow officers.
WBIR found most of the IA cases after requesting internal records on alleged improper conduct by KPD personnel dating to 2014. Most occurred before Thomas, a former Internal Affairs Unit captain, became chief in 2018.
"DO YOU MINGLE?"
KPD Officer Lawrence Presnell's conduct was so troubling it prompted the Knox County District Attorney General's Office last year to quietly review his case, records show. DA Charme Allen ultimately decided in September 2018 against seeking charges, her letter to Thomas states.
"While it appears Lawrence Presnell's behavior was inappropriate based upon his position as a Knoxville Police Officer, this conduct does not rise to the level of a criminal offense this office would have the ability to successfully prosecute," Allen wrote.
The harassment complaint against Presnell dates to 2016.
In August 2016, a North Knoxville woman told KPD Internal Affairs investigators that Presnell conducted a traffic stop near her home. She asked him for help when he was done with that in dealing with a grandson, records show.
10News is not identifying the woman. She at first agreed to be interviewed for this story but later refused to return numerous calls.
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Presnell, who was married, spoke with the boy and struck up a conversation with the grandmother, who was separated from her husband. Some of her grandchildren played in the yard as she spoke with the officer, she said.
"And then he said, 'Well, uh, do you mingle?' a transcript of the interview shows.
"And uh, I was like uh...mingle."
She began to think that his idea of mingling differed from hers, the transcript shows. When her husband showed up, she said, Presnell left.
The next morning, however, there was a knock on the door. Presnell had returned.
He seemed surprised that one of her grandchildren was at the house, according to the investigation. He'd assumed the child would be in school, but the woman said the child wouldn't be going to school until a couple days later.
"And I was still puzzled why he was still, you know, why he was even there, you know. So he walked off the side porch. Went to the gate. And I walked to the end of the porch and I was like, you know, I was like why is he even here, you know, that's what I was thinking. And then he asked me, he said, uh, 'So what did you think yesterday?' "
"And I was like, huh, you know, I was like, What do you mean?'"
According to the woman, the officer began asking inappropriate personal questions about her breasts and private parts. She said she smacked him on the chest.
She became frightened. She said she didn't know how to respond. Finally, he left.
KPD's investigation would later show Presnell drove by her house 15 times that day, stopping three times. Presnell said the street by her house was a cut-through for him on patrols.
Two days later, he stopped back by in his patrol car, the investigation showed.
The woman said she told him, "You're gonna get somebody in trouble."
"And he said, 'Why?' and I said, 'Cause you're a married man and I'm married.' "
They spoke briefly, the investigation showed, and then he left, saying he'd come back.
The grandmother went to KPD on Aug. 15, 2016.
Several days later, Presnell came back. He asked her, the investigation showed, if she "ever got a wild hair."
She said she told him no and that such talk embarrassed her.
"And then he said, uh, 'Well, let me know if you ever get one and I'll drive by your house and wave and see if you're out, you know, check out the house and everything.' And then he left."
The woman told investigators she didn't want "trouble," but she was scared.
In his interview, Presnell told investigators he viewed his conversations with the woman as "flirting." He didn't recall talking about "mingling," he said.
He said he remembered some conversation about her breasts.
"We did talk about boobs, I think, but I don't remember exactly what I said about big or small or anything. Like I said, there was some conversation, adult conversation, but yeah."
He didn't remember making a specific reference to her private parts, "...but...that could come across," a transcript of his interview states.
He did remember her cautioning him about coming around. He said he didn't take that as a message that he should stop.
Presnell in his interview chalked up the incident to perhaps miscommunication on his part and hers. He wasn't stalking her, he said.
A sergeant ordered him not to go down the woman's street. Presnell said he would obey.
By Oct. 7, 2016, he'd resigned.
"YOU'VE GOT REALLY NICE LEGS"
KPD Officer Tyler Hughett spotted the Northwest Knoxville woman at a Pilot station near Merchant Drive late the night of Sept. 19, 2017. An hour or so later, he was knocking on her door, walking through her house and touching her body.
The woman had realized while parked at the Pilot that night that she had little money and no debit card. She was about out of gas and panicked about being able to get home.
She screamed in frustration. Hughett and another officer came up behind. They told her Pilot employees wanted her to leave, according to IA records.
The woman made it home. Early on Sept. 20, 2017, there was a knock on her door.
It was Hughett. She told IA investigator Sgt. Jonathan Chadwell she recognized him from the Pilot. According to a transcript of her interview with Internal Affairs officers, she was surprised to see him and asked why he was there.
"'I was just checking on you,'" she recalled him saying. " 'I said, Well, I'm OK. I was OK, though, at the Pilot, too.' "
Uninvited, she said, he walked right in and began flashing his flashlight around the house. It startled her.
"I said, 'Are you here to check on me or are you here to search my house?"
She said he replied, "I'm just checking on you, but maybe a little of both."
Uncertain what to do, she asked if he wanted to sit down. They chatted. According to the woman, Hughett noticed part of a large tattoo visible below her shorts on the right side of her thigh.
He complimented her on it. What he did next scared her.
According to the woman, he proceeded to touch her leg and pull up her shorts to get a better look at the full tattoo.
"He took them (the shorts) from the top and he pulled my shorts all the way down..."
He saw her legs, her panties, "he saw everything," her transcript reads.
Then he took her hips and pivoted them. He wondered if she had any tattoos on her back, which she didn't.
"I was wearing a thong. He saw my butt, he saw everything," she said.
He ran his hands along her thighs, she reported.
There was no doubt in her mind what was happening, she told Chadwell. "He was determined to get something out of, of this situation."
The woman said Hughett, who said he was separated from his wife, essentially confirmed it when he said he'd like to take her out on a date.
She told Chadwell she didn't want anything to do with him; she wanted him out of the house. She said she gave him an incorrect phone number and said perhaps they could have dinner one night.
The woman said she was tired and wanted to go to sleep.
"I kind of opened my front door and he said, 'That's it? You're not gonna...' like assuming that I was gonna sleep with him," she said during her interview.
Finally, she said she was able to close the door. But she said she noticed his cruiser remained outside, and it sounded like he was walking around her house doing an inspection.
KPD's investigation would show Hughett first parked at her house at 12:09 a.m., and then returned to his cruiser at 12:22 a.m. and drove away.
At 12:28 a.m. he returned and got out. He didn't tell dispatch where he was. Hughett returned to the cruiser at 1:14 a.m. and drove away, according to court records.
At 2:08 a.m., he parked on a side street, got out of the car and walked toward her house. At 2:27 a.m. he drove away.
Court records state he came back again, this time at 3:10 a.m. He parked on a side street and stayed until about 3:23 a.m.
Records state Hughett came back one more time. He parked in front of the woman's house at 3:36 a.m., stayed 21 minutes and then drove away.
Each time his microphone was turned off.
The woman relayed her story Sept. 21, 2017. In a follow-up interview, KPD Investigator Patty Tipton told her that Hughett said he'd seen her through a window of her house. He reported that she had overturned furniture in her home and that the woman had said she was going to commit suicide.
The woman angrily denied she'd said anything of the kind.
"He is out of his mind. He's lying about all of that," she replied according to the transcript.
Investigators pressed Hughett to take a polygraph exam. He stated in emails he was ready to cooperate, but then on Oct. 11, 2017, he resigned, records show.
In December 2017, he entered a plea to sexual battery, and a year later, Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee placed him on diversion. If he stays out of trouble he can have the charge cleared from his record.
The woman later filed a federal lawsuit against him in Knoxville. In March, her attorney stepped away from the case, leaving her to represent herself.
"I'm angry that I can't sleep," the woman told Tipton in her follow-up interview. "You know, I'm angry that...that he's taken my security from me, my serenity from me."
The woman did not respond to a request for comment.
REQUEST FOR NUDE PHOTOS
A Knoxville woman who worked as a prostitute met KPD Officer Jayson Waggoner in April 2017 when he messaged her through the sex-trafficking website Backpage, records show. She didn't know he was a cop.
"Normally I have the person uh call me from a Pilot and I direct 'em to my condo. But he refused and asked me to come meet him at Pilot, so I went and met him at Pilot. And then he pulled up behind me in a cruiser and turned on his lights," the woman told IA investigator Lt. Stanley Cash.
She wasn't sure of his name other than it was Jason, she told authorities.
Waggoner handcuffed her and put her in the back of his cruiser. But the officer wasn't going to arrest her, the woman said.
"I want to question you and talk to you about some stuff," she recalled him saying.
The department, he said, was looking for "traffickers." He wondered if she'd had sex with any judges or lawyers. They talked for awhile in his cruiser, and then he drove to her place nearby, she recalled.
He said he wanted to search her home for drugs. She told him she didn't have any. The woman wondered if he'd run a background check on her because she was out on bond for an incident involving a previous boyfriend.
If Waggoner checked her name, he didn't indicate it, she said.
Instead, he told her he was going to search her using his baton. He ran the device up between her legs under her dress. The woman said Waggoner told her he was "looking for needles."
"I thought that was kind of weird cause I wasn't wearing anything underneath this like a flimsy dress like this, I wasn't wearing nothing," she recalled.
Waggoner apparently had decided he was done with her because he drove her back to the Pilot and let her get back in her car and go home.
Maybe a half hour later, however, he showed up at her condo - unannounced, the investigation found. She saw him on video surveillance from inside the home.
The woman said he didn't want to come inside. So she put on clothes and stepped outside.
She told Cash they talked outside by his car in her cul de sac for about an hour. She was beginning to think he perceived her as something other than a hooker.
"I wasn't talking to him like us dating or nothing. But then when he left he said, 'I'm sorry I was staring so much,' you know, that sort of thing. But I didn't realize he was just infatuated until afterwards," her statement reads.
They parted, but minutes later she heard from him again by texts sent from "Jason Cop," she said. He asked about her favorite sex position and indicated he'd be interested in coming back to see her when he was off duty.
She replied: "But just not sure if you should associate with someone like me..."
He texted back: "Sorry if to (sic) much? I've slept very little today and gets blood flowing in wrong place right now! Lol so probably should say good night!"
He asked for nude pictures, and she said she complied. While it was unusual for a cop to ask for a photo, she said customers sometimes requested one so she had some handy.
Days later he contacted her again, telling her he was off work and asking if he could come by her place. She was in Cookeville, however. The woman recalled that he was disappointed.
He texted her the following day, she said, but she didn't respond. He texted her again the next day but she said she wouldn't answer.
"And then he never texted again," she told investigators.
She'd decided Waggoner was just trying to use her, she said.
"I never touched the man, he never touched me except with that baton. I never touched him. Never kissed him. Never did nothing. ...But then he just said he wanted to help me out with my needs and then I realized, OK...I don't, I'm not really interested but thanks," she told investigators.
While the encounter happened in April 2017, KPD didn't learn about it until June 2017 when the prostitute spoke with a sergeant from KPD's Special Crimes Unit, which was conducting an operation with the FBI of the Backpage site.
The woman relayed her story about the officer she knew as "Jason," the IA investigation found. Investigators identified Waggoner as the man she was talking about.
Video from Waggoner's cruiser corroborated much of her story, IA records state. At times his cruiser microphone was turned off. If he'd searched her with his baton, that occurred outside the camera's view, and no audio was recorded, an IA report states.
She also turned over her texts with the man she knew as "Jason Cop."
The IA investigation found that Waggoner had indeed engaged in sexual misconduct. But he resigned effective Aug. 4, 2017, and the department closed its review.
"Officer Waggoner refused to give Internal Affairs a statement regarding the investigation," a KPD memo states.
Waggoner could not be reached for comment.
AN AFFAIR AND A CRUISER
A suspicious husband's questions led to the demotion of a KPD sergeant and the dismissal of a department employee with whom he was having an affair.
On Sept. 23, 2016, Joshua Smith filed a complaint against Sgt. Dennis Bible, records state. Bible was seeing Joshua Smith's wife Elizabeth, an NCIC operator for KPD, and using his department cruiser for their trysts, he said.
Smith said he'd also see texts and emails between the two of them, records state. He also said his wife and Lt. Gordon Gwathney had been trading what he considered to be inappropriate messages while on duty.
When questioned by Cash and Chadwell, Smith confirmed she and Bible had been having an affair. They'd met Sept. 23 in the parking lot of a nearby SunTrust Bank and later gone to the Time Warp Tearoom on Central Street, records state. Neither was on the clock at the time, she said.
She also mentioned a recent meal they'd shared at a pizza restaurant. Bible, she said, had driven his personal car.
They'd also met for sex a couple times at a West Knoxville motel near Cedar Bluff Road, she said. At first Smith said she thought he'd driven his personal vehicle.
"When asked if she had ever seen Sgt. Bible drive his police cruiser to the hotel, she states, 'Uh, not that I know of. I usually end up there after him," IA documents state.
"Ms. Smith was then asked if she had ever seen a cruiser in the parking lot when she pulled in and she said, 'Yes, so I guess that could be his.'"
Smith said she and Gwathney had traded "flirty" messages on Facebook for awhile while both were on duty.
According to Chadwell, "I then asked Ms. Smith what kind of comments and she responded, 'It was mainly on his part and I was just...trying to...I don't know, not do that. I did not...it wasn't...it wasn't bad. I don't...like compliments and stuff."
Bible confirmed the affair as well but said he'd typically used his take-home cruiser to meet Smith. He said he'd twice driven it to the Whirlpool Corp. parking lot near the motel and parked it before meeting Smith.
He said he always was off the clock when they met.
Bible also said he'd gone shopping with Smith at the Target on Clinton Highway while in uniform. He confirmed other places the two had gone such as outside the Tennessee School of Beauty on Western Avenue.
A check by IA of Bible's in-car audio/video showed among other things that he'd driven to the Whirlpool parking lot near the Best Western motel the night of Aug. 12 and the night of Sept. 2, 2017, records state.
The department fired Smith in January 2017 after finding that she'd lied in her first interview when she said Bible had driven his personal vehicle during meetings, records state. She later said he'd used his cruiser to meet her.
Bible was demoted to police officer status and suspended without pay for 15 days, records show. He also was removed "from any and all special teams," records state.
The IA investigation found he'd violated department codes regarding sexual misconduct and unbecoming conduct.
The description of the circumstances reads: "Driving a marked police cruiser to a motel and procuring a room, in view of the general public, to engage in sexual activity; use of that police vehicle for personal use while not performing legitimate city business; failure to complete a leave form prior to or immediately upon return from work."
Gwathney confirmed Sept. 27, 2016, during an interview with IA investigators that some of the messages he'd traded with Smith involved sexual content. He said he'd never met her.
"He went on to explain that he had last communicated with Ms. Smith about a week ago and that she had liked another officer," the IA summary states.
Gwathney received a written reprimand and remains at KPD.
He told 10News he'd sent one "flirtatious" message to Smith. He said he regretted it and didn't realize it had happened while on duty.
"I’ve been here 22 years and that’s the only thing other than a couple car wrecks that I’ve been in trouble for," Gwathney said.
He said he deserved the reprimand.
Bible is challenging his demotion in Knox County Chancery Court.
Smith declined an interview with 10News. She said she appealed her termination and left of her own accord earlier this year.
As a result of the investigation, Lt. Jeff Pappas also received a written reprimand for failing to ensure officers who were taking leave had sufficiently submitted leave request paperwork as required by the department.
MESSAGES ON GRINDR
A Knoxville man who got an invitation for sex in July 2014 thru an online app at first thought he was being set up for arrest.
The man reported he'd gotten texts "in which the letter 's' had been substituted with '$' in regards to sex acts," an IA report states.
On July 15, 2014, he told department officials the messages made him wonder if he was the target of some kind of online prostitution sting.
The next day, he called back with more information. He'd gotten another message with more details including an offered dollar amount for a "specific sexual act."
The man then met with IA investigators the next day. He said he recognized the person who had messaged him through the Grindr app: KPD Investigator Brian Moran, records state.
The man said he recognized Moran from past work the man had done in Knoxville.
The department's Internet Crimes Against Children began conducting online surveillance of Moran, and it used the man's online login information to make Moran think the man was available online, the report states.
Moran logged on twice between Aug. 5, 2014 and Aug. 12, 2014, but made no attempt to reach the man, according to the investigation.
Department officials spoke with Moran on Aug. 19, 2014, the IA file shows. He looked over messages provided by the man and other information from Grindr.
"Inv. Moran admitted that he was in fact the person responding to Mr. ------------'s text," the report states. "Inv. Moran went on to say, 'I would be lying if I told you that I have never paid for sex on Grindr or online."
Moran told the administrators his texts to the man had been meant to be "playful talk."
He acknowledged his conduct had put the department in a bad light.
Investigators found that he had violated department code.
"There is very little doubt after interviewing Inv. Moran and reading the text messages that Inv. Moran gave the perception that he intended to pay for sex with Mr. -------," records state.
Moran resigned in January 2015 for "personal reasons," documents state. He could not be reached for comment.
"I'M YOUR NO GAME PLAYING MAN"
It started as an ugly fight with his wife over email messages. When it was all over, Dante Booth no longer worked as a KPD police recruit.
Booth's wife went to KPD headquarters and filed a complaint with Internal Affairs on March 4, 2016, records show. She made various accusations, some of which could not be substantiated.
But she had screenshots from his personal phone that showed him trying to hook up via Craigslist with women, preferably older women.
"I went through his phone," she told investigators, "and then I went through his emails. I wasn't gonna go through the entire inbox, so like I brought you the basic ones that I have."
One email said, "looking for my very first BBC experience - w4m. 24 year old black male. I am very interested. I love doing oral and I am into foreplay."
Another said, "20 year old male. It's been a fantasy of mine to ---- an older woman."
In another email, the woman described what she'd charge.
When confronted, Booth agreed to let the department's Internet Crimes Against Children unit scan his personal computer. The review showed nothing incriminating, records show.
But he declined to let them look at his personal cellphone, his interview showed.
In an extended monologue about his Feb. 26, 2016, fight with his wife, during which they called the police on each other, he also denied to Sgt. Chadwell that he'd sent the emails.
"She's pointing to emails on my email account," a transcript of his interview states. "And I'm like, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' And then she shows me the emails and I immediately tell her, 'I did not send those emails, those are, those are not from my, they're not from me.'"
He told IA investigators he at first thought someone had hacked into his email account. Then he began to suspect his wife had been "...I, I don't know, con-, conspiring or something to use this to blackmail me because I remember a while back she had told me that if I had ever crossed her she would blackmail me or something to that extent so."
Why, investigators wanted to know, hadn't he let them review his cellphone?
He responded, according to a transcript: "...it's the fact that at the time she had access to my phone, I didn't have access to my computer. I didn't do any of that type of stuff so I was hoping that you all would go in my computer, see that I didn't do that stuff and I was the only one that had access to it and then be able to believe that I was telling the truth versus if I gave you my phone and you would see the stuff on my phone and think that was me and there would be no way for me to be able to prove that I didn't do that because it's coming from my phone if she did in fact do it from my phone."
Booth agreed to take a polygraph May 3, 2016, and that appeared to be his undoing, records show. Examiners found he'd lied when asked about the source of the emails.
On May 10, 2016, Booth submitted to a follow-up interview and admitted he'd lied about the emails.
"Uh, it wasn't that I was trying to hide a criminal act," a transcript of his interview shows. "I was just embarrassed by the fact that I was married and I had sent those emails out."
The IA Unit concluded Booth had violated department code about truthfulness. He resigned May 20, 2016, according to records, resulting in the closure of the investigation.
"The investigation and finding of the case has not been reviewed by the Knoxville Police Department Command staff," a summary states.
Booth couldn't be reached for comment.
AN UNSOLICITED PICTURE
On March 14, 2019, a Knox County school security officer said she wanted to file a sexual harassment complaint against KPD Officer Geoffrey Murret.
Her accusation of harassment was not sustained, records show. But investigators did suspend Murret one day without pay for texting a photo of his genitals to her.
The woman alleged the two had engaged in a flirtatious relationship while both worked in security at a Knoxville high school. She alleged that he'd been physically affectionate.
He then told her he had something for her, and he texted her a photo of his genitals, according to records.
"Officer ------ advised that she was nervous to say anything to anyone because she didn't know what he could do to her if she told someone and she didn't want him (to) get in trouble," the IA summary states.
Investigators then spoke March 29, 2019, with Murret.
He said she'd instigated contact and a relationship. Murret said he'd ignored the advances for awhile but then took part in flirting.
"Officer Murret believed they had an increasingly mutual sexual relationship, which is why he sent the picture of his genitals to her and had rubbed and kissed her neck on March 4th," the report states.
He said he'd made a lapse in judgment in sending the picture. He said he'd been going through a difficult time in his marriage.
IA found he'd violated department code about sexual misconduct by sending the photo: "All employees of the Knoxville Police Department shall refrain from any behavior or communication that would likely be construed as lewd, lascivious or otherwise sexually inappropriate."
The department also found based on each person's statements and texts that "the flirtatious relationship was mutual."
Once she decided to call off the relationship, he told her they'd remain professional from that moment on, the report states.
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