CROSSVILLE, Tenn. (WATE/WKRN) — A former Cumberland County commissioner and Solid Waste Department director was sentenced Thursday to 17 years in prison for sexually assaulting seven women working under his supervision at the county’s recycling center.
Michael Harvel, 61, was facing up to life in prison after being convicted of nine counts of sexual assault, officials said.
According to evidence introduced at the trial, including testimony from 13 women, Harvel abused his authority as a county official to sexually assault women who worked under his control at Cumberland County Recycling Center.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said 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.”
Back in December, a jury found Harvel guilty of four counts of sexual assault that included kidnapping, as well as 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 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.”
Based on witness testimony at the trial, Harvel allegedly told one victim to stop by his office at the end of the day to discuss a job opportunity, but then he locked the office door his office and orally raped her.
In addition, Harvel was accused of telling a second victim he needed her help with a county work project, driving her to an isolated landfill in the woods, raping her in a guard shack.
The jury also heard evidence that Harvel covered up his pattern of behavior by threatening his victims, along with other employees, to prevent them from reporting his crimes, officials said.
“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 DOJ’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.”
On Thursday, April 20, the DOJ announced Harvel had been sentenced to 17 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release.
“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.”
This news comes after the DOJ secured $1.1 million from Cumberland County to resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit — which claimed the 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 — as part of a separate civil action in 2021.
According to the complaint, Harvel subjected the women to unwanted sexual contact, such as kissing and groping, as well as unwelcome sexual advances on a regular basis.