The Brookhaven Police Department and its deputy chief are denying claims made in a lawsuit that they conspired with a former Dunwoody Police lieutenant to hire and quickly fire an officer who was complaining about harassment.
Brookhaven Deputy Chief of Police Brandon Gurley called the claim “completely false” and a department spokesperson said it “simply defies logic.”
Roger Halstead, a former officer for both departments, made the claim in a lawsuit filed July 7 against the city of Dunwoody and various officials in its government. The lawsuit does not name anyone at the Brookhaven Police Department or in Brookhaven city government as a defendant.
Halstead is one of three current or former Dunwoody Police employees who have filed complaints alleging sexual harassment and other misconduct against former Lt. Fidel Espinoza, who resigned as a result of an investigation into the claims, according to Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan. A July 2 report issued by Grogan ruled that Espinoza sent improper sexual messages to Halstead and others, but did not harass or coerce him.
In the lawsuit, Halstead claims that at the Dunwoody Police Department, he was subjected to unfair write-ups that opened him up to sexual harassment from Espinoza, who offered extra work assignments on the condition of providing sexual material. When Halstead complained about misconduct by various officers, the lawsuit alleges, Espinoza conspired to have him hired by the Brookhaven Police Department, then quickly terminated and blackballed elsewhere. Grogan’s report ruled against those claims.
The lawsuit describes Gurley, the Brookhaven Police deputy chief, as Espinoza’s “best friend.” Halstead claims in the lawsuit that, four days into his employment at Brookhaven, Gurley accused him of insubordination. Halstead claims that his protests “fell on deaf ears and it became immediately apparent that the change in employment status arranged by Espinoza was a set-up to get Halstead out of Dunwoody and negatively fired by Brookhaven.” Halstead was terminated within seven weeks, the lawsuit says.
“This allegation is completely false,” Gurley said in an email in response to the lawsuit’s claim. “We would never accept the liability of negligently hiring a known problem employee.”
Sgt. David Snively, the Brookhaven Police Department’s spokesperson, said the department could not comment on specifics of the case, but added that “a suggestion that BPD would assume the liability associated with knowingly hiring a ‘problem’ officer from another agency, especially as a ruse to later fire him on behalf of that other agency, simply defies logic.”
Gurley also said that the characterization of him as Epinoza’s “best friend” is untrue. “Espinoza and I were professional colleagues from neighboring cities. … We have never socialized or ‘hung out’ off duty,” Gurley said.
Gurley said that he and Espinoza once had similar public-outreach roles in their departments and would “contact each other occasionally to discuss social media and other community policing strategies.” He said they attended the same 10-week professional development course in 2016 and attended cross-department public outreach events, such as National Night Out.