The city of Dunwoody is denying all claims made by former Police Officer Austin Handle in an intent-to-sue notice alleging misconduct and retaliation from the department’s command staff.
Handle was fired from the department on May 11 and in June filed the notice through his attorney, Laura Austin. Austin said she is still considering whether to file a lawsuit against the city.
Handle, who now works as a tech entrepreneur working on artificial intelligence to assist first responders, is one of a group of former and current Dunwoody police officers who plans to sue the city of Dunwoody because of alleged misconduct, mostly involving former Lt. Fidel Espinoza. Handle has publicly outlined his complaints against the command staff to his 106,000 followers in a series of videos on TikTok, which is a video-sharing social media app.
Handle alleged he was wrongfully terminated and received unnecessary write ups from Espinoza and Major Oliver Fladrich. He alleged he was in “a hostile work environment,” and the command staff failed to follow the department’s policies.
In a response from the city written by attorney R. Read Gignilliat, who was hired to handle the recent police harassment allegations, the city said Handle lacks evidence or specificity on most of his allegations, including the command staff violating policies or a record of write ups or other misconduct.
The city said Handle was fired because of lying to command staff about violating department policies by using his police car’s emergency equipment and speeding in his neighborhood. The department received a complaint from a neighbor about his behavior that included a video, the city said, which led to an investigation of the policy violation.
Handle said he didn’t remember speeding with his emergency lights on but later admitted to it during a pre-adverse action hearing with Police Chief Billy Grogan, the city said. He was then terminated for lying, according to the city.
“Surprisingly, Handle denied the allegations when presented with the complaint, thereby transforming comparatively minor policy violations into a potential dischargeable offense for untruthfulness,” the city’s response reads.
Handle said he received unfair write ups from Espinoza and Fladrich. He said a “hostile work environment” was in part created by Espinoza requesting sexual favors or having sexual overtones with employees and claimed Espinoza disciplined him so he would have to go to Espinoza for help.
According to the city, Handle has never had a write up from Espinoza or Fladrich. The city said there is no evidence Handle was subjected to sexual misconduct from Espinoza, and he had never previously made that complaint to the city.
“In a transparent effort to exploit an unrelated controversy involving Espinoza, Handle has abandoned that strategy in favor of the fundamentally inconsistent theory that — rather than wanting to force him out of the Department — Espinoza actually intended for Handle to ‘come to him for relief,’” the city’s response reads.
Three other former or current officers in the department have harassment claims against Espinoza. Grogan issued an investigative report July 2 about the first two claims of sexual harassment from former officer Roger Halstead and civilian transport officer Brian Bolden, dismissing key allegations but acknowledging Espinoza did send and receive improper sexual images and improperly accused Bolden of theft.
Halstead, who’s also being represented by Austin, filed a lawsuit against the city on July 7 and is seeking $500,000 plus punitive damages.
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.
Handle has not claimed to have been sexually harassed by Espinoza.