Speaking out for the first time since Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney abruptly announced his resignation, former Police Commissioner Richard Ross said his retirement was completely voluntary.
"I was not compelled to do so," he said Wednesday morning outside police headquarters. "My love for this city has compelled me to make a decision that is bigger than me."
Dressed in a blue suit instead of his familiar uniform, Ross added that he was proud of the work accomplished in his three years as police commissioner.
"It is with great regret that I leave something I enjoy, but we have been through a lot in the past three-half-years," Ross said. "We've been through a great deal."
Ross highlighted the city's handling of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, 2018 Super Bowl victory and last week's standoff that left seven police officers injured.
But he also lamented Philadelphia's persistent gun violence, calling it "an albatross around [his] neck" during his years of leadership.
On Tuesday, Mayor Jim Kenney said in a lengthy statement that Ross's departure "is in the best interest of the department" because "new allegations of sexual harassment as well as gender and racial discrimination among the rank and file have recently been brought to my attention."
Addressing a federal lawsuit filed in court Monday, Ross said it was in the city's best interest to introduce new leadership.
"Given the circumstances ... I just thought for the greater good of all citizens of Philadelphia, the fine officers here and the mayor, that it would be better if I just moved along," he said.
Ross' resignation is related to a federal civil lawsuit filed by two black female police officers, the mayor's spokeswoman, Deana Gamble, said in an email late Tuesday evening.
Ross, a three-decade veteran of the department, last week helped negotiate the surrender of a mass shooting suspect. Kenney and other city, state and even national leaders praised Ross' quick response to the standoff and his ability to end it peacefully.
Still, Kenney said Ross' handling of alleged sexual harassment and racial bias complaints raised serious questions about the culture of the police force.
In the lawsuit, which was amended last Friday and lists Ross as a defendant, Cpl. Audra McCowan and patrol officer Jennifer Allen claimed they endured groping, verbal harassment and racial discrimination. Allen said she had breast milk stolen from a police department refrigerator while she was nursing, according to the suit.
Both women said they were retaliated against for reporting the inappropriate behavior.
"While those allegations do not accuse Commissioner Ross of harassment, I do ultimately believe his resignation is in the best interest of the department," Kenney said.
The lawsuit cited an alleged text message exchange between McCowan and Ross in February where she tried to report the harassment. The suit claimed Ross was dismissive and refused to take action on her report due in part because of an alleged affair the two had before he became commissioner.
"During these conversations, Commissioner Ross also stated he was going to
'school' Ms. McCowan on sexual harassment and indicated that he continues to be upset with her and was getting in the way of redressing her complaints in retribution for her breaking off their two-year affair, which lasted from 2009 to 2011," the lawsuit alleged.
Ross declined to discuss specific details about the lawsuit Wednesday morning, but expressed dismay over allegations that he mistreated any members of the police force.
"In 55 years of life and 30 years in law enforcement … I have never targeted a person. I have never sought retribution on a person," he said Wednesday. "I take serious umbrage with that part of this issue, as well as others. This legal case will bare out some of those facts, but I am not able to discuss it."
Both McCowen and Allen have been with the department for 15 years and are married to other police officers, according to the suit. Their attorney told NBC10 they have been on leave since filing their lawsuit.
The attorney also said both of his clients were surprised by Ross's resignation and that they weren't looking for him to resign but wanted to shed light on a serious workplace issue.
Deputy Commissioner Christine Coulter, one of five deputies directly under Ross, was named acting commissioner while a search for a permanent replacement takes place. Coulter is also listed as a defendant in the federal lawsuit.
Ross praised Coulter's decades of experience and said it is time for the police department to have a woman in charge.