The Dunwoody City Council is set to consider a contract to spend $50,000 or more with an Atlanta law firm that was hired in July to help defend the city against one lawsuit and three other complaints alleging sexual harassment and other issues in the police department.
The contract is with Atlanta firm Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp and Wilson LLP, according to the Sept. 29 council meeting agenda. The vote on the contract was deferred until Oct. 12 because the contract was not ready for council’s review, Councilmember John Heneghan said.
Attorney R. Read Gignilliat is defending the city and represents public- and private-sector employers in actions by employees, according to the firm’s website. He has represented Dunwoody in “various employment-related matters since its incorporation” in 2008, according to city spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher.
Assistant City Manager Jay Vinicki said council needs to approve any contract in which the city may spend $50,000 or over, which is why the contract was on the agenda. The city manager has authority to approve contracts below that amount.
Gignilliat has successfully represented employers before such bodies as the Georgia Supreme Court, according to the firm’s website. According to media reports, his work includes representing the city of Thomson, Georgia, in a 2018 wrongful-termination lawsuit from a former police captain, and advising the Gwinnett County ethics board in the 2017 case of a county commissioner who called U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig.”
The city currently faces four complaints involving former Dunwoody Police Lt. Fidel Espinoza and other police department officials. The lawsuit, filed July 7 by former officer Roger Halstead, claims 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.
At least three 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 misconduct and retaliation against him from the department’s command staff. Officer Bryan Castellanos alleged Espinoza also sexually harassed him by sending and demanding sexual photos and videos.
Police Chief Billy Grogan issued an investigative report that ruled the substance of Halstead and Bolden’s claims to be untrue or unproven. Gignilliat wrote the city’s response to Handle’s complaint, which denied all his claims.