Law enforcement officials across the country, including current and former Dunwoody officers, are calling for congressional leaders to hold police departments accountable.

DPD civilian Prisoner Transport Officer Brian Bolden and former DPD Officer Austin Handle signed a letter that was sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and others on May 18. The letter calls for Congress to enact legal protections for police whistleblowers who might come forward with evidence of wrongdoing. 

The letter comes from the Government Accountability Project, a Washington, D.C. whistleblower protection and advocacy nonprofit. Other signatories include Fred Whitehurst, a former supervisory special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Richard Larrabee, a special agent for the U.S. Department of Interior; and Frank Serpico, the famous former New York City police officer who was a whistleblower on police corruption and served as the inspiration for the 1973 film “Serpico.” 

“While videos have sparked a national awakening, defending freedom needs more than a smartphone,” reads the letter. “In many cases, it requires testimony from those willing to bear witness. The only witness may be a fellow officer. That means these reforms will not work as intended unless they directly attack the Blue Wall of Silence that permeates law enforcement.”

Last year, Bolden and Handle were two of many officers who filed complaints against former Lt. Fidel Espinoza. Bolden said Espinoza bullied and sexually harassed him, and falsely accused him of theft. Handle claims retaliation from Espinoza because he spoke out against alleged harassment, releasing a series on TikTok in August of last year detailing his experience. 

Espinoza and the city of Dunwoody are currently being sued by another officer, Roger Halstead, who said Espinoza sexually harassed him and demanded sexual materials in exchange for work benefits. City spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher said there have been no significant updates to Halstead’s lawsuit, and PACER documents confirm that litigation is ongoing.

Bolden said he was concerned with what he perceived as a lack of concern from DPD’s command staff, and claimed that the department attempted to cover up “corruption” and the situation with Espinoza. 

“I signed the letter because I feel that my department has not had my back at all,” he said in an email. “I’ve asked the deputy chief for years to put a stop to the bullying, retaliation, sexual harassment … but I am still standing in solidarity to this day.”

In an emailed statement, Handle – who now serves as the vice chair of the Lamplighter Project, a nonprofit organization that encourages whistleblowing activity in law enforcement – said the legislation that signatories of the letter are asking for is long overdue. 

“As with any government cover-up of abuse, the simple act of denial remains the first step,” he said in an email. “For government agencies, especially those in charge, this process is all too easy. Although the city of Dunwoody has continually denied my allegations, outside organizations and agencies have easily identified the truth to our side of the story.”

Handle said he hopes in the future, other law enforcement officers feel motivated to speak out against corruption. 

The letter also calls for numerous other reforms to be put in place, including banning chokeholds, oversight of mandatory body cameras, transparency in forensic lab operations, and restrictions on “no-knock” warrants, which allow officers to enter a property without notifying the residents. 

“New police reforms will have to reverse a longstanding way of life that has sustained accountability-free abuses of power,” reads the letter. “That will not happen unless our trickle of truth turns into a river.” 

Clarification: The headline of this story was updated to reflect “current and former” Dunwoody officers are calling for congressional leaders to hold police departments accountable.

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers.