The Dunwoody Police Department’s 2018 “Officer of the Year” has joined three other current and former employees in filing intent-to-sue notices alleging harassment by former Lt. Fidel Espinoza.
Officer Bryan Castellanos alleges in a July 13 complaint letter that Espinoza sexually harassed him by sending and demanding sexual photos and videos, engaging in sexual chats with Castellano’s wife, and taking a photo of the officer while he was using a urinal.
“To say the least, the carelessness of the Dunwoody Police Department in failing to address this issue and protect its officers has completely torn Mr. Castellanos’ life apart,” says the complaint.
The “ante litem,” or intent-to-sue, notice was filed on Castellanos’s behalf by attorney Mande Moyer, who was not immediately available for comment. The notice says Castellanos is seeking compensation likely to exceed $500,000. Along with the other complaint filings, including one already filed lawsuit, the city is facing at least $2 million in compensation requests or demands.
The city has hired an outside attorney to handle the previously filed harassment complaints. City spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher said the city received Castellanos’s ante litem notice around July 17. The notice will be submitted to the city’s liability insurer and “decisions regarding whether and how to respond to it will be made soon,” she said.
DPD Chief Billy Grogan on July 2 issued an investigative report about two of the other formal complaints, dismissing their key allegations. That report also detailed Castellanos’s complaints, apparently based on an earlier version sent in May to Grogan that did not include an intent-to-sue declaration. Grogan in the report acknowledged that Espinoza engaged in improper sending and receiving of sexual images, but that Castellanos never told Espinoza to stop such practices and did not connect them to any coercion about favorable treatment.
Castellanos last year was named DPD’s “Officer the Year” for 2018 for an incident where he pursued shoplifting suspects who rammed his vehicle with theirs.
His complaint alleges that Espinoza began harassing him within six months of his January 2017 hiring and continued doing so up to Espinoza’s resignation in May of this year.
“Officer Castellanos for the last several years has been subject to blatant sexual harassment and unnecessary turmoil from Fidel,” the intent-to-sue notice says, adding that there is evidence of harassment of other officers. “To say this has affected his job as a police officer is an understatement. Fidel was Officer Castellanos’ superior and for one’s superior to act in such a manner would make anyone fearful of coming forward.”
“One of the more outrageous incidents of Fidel occured in April of 2018 when Fidel took a photo of Officer Castellanos over a bathroom stall while Officer Castellanos was going to the restroom,” the complaint says.
Grogan’s investigative report that mentioned Castellanos’s complaints included screenshots of many text messages between Castellanos and Espinoza. Those texts included the urinal photo. Other photos sent by Espinoza show his crotch covered with clothing, including in what appeared to be his police uniform. The messages included repeated demands to see photos of a “turtle” — his slang for “penis” — and explicit references to masturbation and other sexual activity.
In the screenshotted messages, Espinoza frequently mingled talk of off-duty jobs and sexual activity. “Let me tell you something. I need to see you or at least talk or text you every day or else,” one of the messages reads. He complained to Castellanos in another message, “…the only reason that you’re nice to me is because you want my extra jobs.”
“Do me a favor your first text message to me should start out with at least hello or how are you so that I know that you’re remotely interested and [sic] how I’m doing as opposed to filling your pockets with money,” reads another text from Espinoza to Castellanos, which he soon followed with what appears to be a photo of his penis. In a follow-up message, he said, “Delete that [expletive] before the wifey breaks into your phone again. Lol.”
The messages also include some sexual jokes. “We keep this up and one of us is gonna get hard and it’s gonna get weird. I’m gonna join the #metoo movement,” Espinoza wrote in one. In another, he sent a photograph of a drawer containing a handgun and condoms with the phrase, “I wonder which will expire first. The Trojans or the ammo?”
Other complaints and lawsuit
Castellanos’s complaint joins others that include various city and DPD officials, all revolving around alleged harassment by Espinoza. Once a popular DPD representative with the public and officials, Espinoza resigned in May as a result of the accusations and amid an internal investigation, according to Grogan.
One complainant, former officer Roger Halstead, has already filed a lawsuit alleging that Espinoza sexually harassed him and demanded sexual materials in exchange for work benefits, then arranged for a retaliatory firing and blackballing by other departments.
Two other complainants have filed notices of intent to sue. Civilian transport officer Brian Bolden claims Espinoza bullied and sexually harassed him and falsely accused him of theft; and former officer Austin Handle claims racial discrimination and fears of impending sexual harassment.
Grogan’s report dismissed the substance of the claims by Bolden and Halstead, while acknowledging that Espinoza engaged in improper sending and receiving of sexual messages. The city has not publicly commented on Handle’s claims, which Boettcher said will be addressed by the city’s attorney.
Halstead’s lawsuit filing contains an undated complaint from yet another officer who made accusations against Espinoza. That complaint included an allegation that Espinoza made a sexual comment when the officer expressed interest in a new position. The lawsuit alleges that DPD dismissed that complaint.