A woman is claiming in a federal lawsuit that a Utah Highway Patrol trooper tried to turn a professional relationship into a sexual one, and used his position to harass and stalk her.
As part of her job at West Coast Towing, Heather Leyva is a liaison to law enforcement and works to ensure that the Utah County business gets its fair share of heavy duty towing jobs.
So when it appeared the company was getting shorted on towing assignments, she contacted the Utah Highway Patrol, which is required to rotate the work without favoritism among West Coast Towing and two other companies. But Sgt. Blaine Robbins, who oversaw the towing rotation program, did nothing to help, Leyva said.
Instead, the trooper began hounding her with unwanted sexually charged text messages, Leyva alleges in her lawsuit.
Fearing that upsetting the trooper would jeopardize her company’s access to its turn on the towing rotation, as well as her bonuses for arranging the tows and her job, Leyva claims she had to walk “a very thin line” in her interactions with him.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Utah’s U.S. District Court, says that while the two were working together from January through June of 2017, Leyva realized Robbins was sexually interested in her.
The suit includes a sampling of the texts Robbins allegedly sent to Leyva.
“Need a drink or something,” Robbins said in one text. “I just drank a coconut water,” Leyva replied. The trooper followed up with texts saying, “Awe dang I was hoping ... I really didn’t want a drink ya know.. That was code for just wanting to see you and talk a bit.”
Robbins allegedly asked in another text for Leyva to send her “best sexiest picture” and commonly referred to her as “baby” and “sweet pea.”
In another text message quoted in the lawsuit, Robbins said, “I just heard on the radio that there is a disturbance at your residence. What’s the address? I’ll be right over.” There was no call about Leyva’s residence, the lawsuit states.
And one time, Robbins allegedly turned on his patrol car’s lights and pulled Leyva over — while she was driving an unmarked vehicle belonging neither to her nor to her employer — saying he wanted to see her.
“Robbins was apparently using his patrol car and position at UHP to stalk Heather,” the lawsuit states.
Leyva, a single mother of three sons, had no interest in Robbins, who was married, the suit says. She tried to placate Robbins’ advances with humor, according to the suit, but never intentionally flirted with him.
Marissa Cote, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Public Safety, said Wednesday that the agency has been made aware of Leyva’s lawsuit alleging she was sexually harassed by a Utah Highway Patrol member.
“The Department takes all allegations of harassment very seriously,” Cote said in a written statement. “Due to potential litigation, our Department has no further comment regarding this matter.”
At a news conference on Wednesday, Leyva said she believes Robbins never had any intention of fixing the rotation issues.
“If he didn’t fix the issues, then I had to keep coming back to him saying there’s an issue that needs to be fixed,” she said.
In May, Leyva reported Robbins’ behavior to her boss, Rob Face, who took the allegation to UHP Lt. Todd Royce. Face knew Royce and thought it would be helpful that Royce worked in a different section of the department than Robbins did.
Royce referred Face to Lt. Corey Nye, who was Robbins’ superior, the lawsuit says.
Nye reportedly berated Face, saying that the allegations were false and if Face made a claim to internal affairs, Face and Leyva would have to take a lie detector test.
Despite Leyva and Face reporting the conduct, Robbins continued the harassment, according to the suit.
On June 15, Leyva, who by now was frightened, texted Robbins saying her company still was not getting its rightful share of towing jobs. Robbins responded in a phone call and said, “Now, do not give me a reason not to like you,” according to the suit.
Robbins’ conduct became publicly known last July when West Coast Towing filed a breach-of-contract suit in 3rd District Court against the state of Utah. That suit — which includes Leyva and Face as plaintiffs and is still pending — alleges at least 28 heavy towing calls were diverted from the company since October 2016 at a loss of an estimated $630,000.
Attorney Robert Sykes — who represents the plaintiffs in both lawsuits — said Robbins was moved to another position within a few days of the 3rd District Court filing and the problems with the rotation were corrected.
The amount of money Leyva is seeking in her sexual harassment suit is unspecified, but Sykes said that “there needs to be a significant payment here as a message to other potential sexual abusers that they will be held to account.” He added that those who protect harassers are just as guilty.
Although the situation has been emotionally exhausting, Leyva felt she had to sue over the sexual harassment, she told news reporters Wednesday.
“I think that it’s very easy to be bullied into not saying anything and the threats are not making it any easier for sure,” she said, adding, “I wouldn’t be doing justice for my kids if I didn’t stand up and say what I felt is right and I don’t think anyone should have to be treated this way.”
Correction: Feb. 7, 12:10 >> An earlier version of this story about a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a woman against a Utah Highway Patrol trooper misstated the woman’s marital status. She is single.