Some attendees at a Monday Dunwoody City Council meeting called for the resignation of the city’s police chief.
During a public comment portion of the March 28 meeting, three people spoke about numerous legal and personnel issues related to the Dunwoody Police Department, each citing police leadership as an issue.
“This is not the way to run a city and ensure our citizens’ safety,” said Dunwoody resident Joe Hirsch.
The city and police department have faced numerous issues in and outside of court over the past nearly two years, mostly related to former Lt. Fidel Espinoza, who multiple officers accused of sexual harassment in 2020. Espinoza resigned amid an internal investigation, while DPD Chief Billy Grogan later issued a report that admitted Espinoza did send improper sexual messages to officers and employees, but claimed he did not harass or coerce them.
On Feb. 17, former Dunwoody Officer Bryan Castellanos filed a lawsuit against Espinoza accusing him of sexual harassment. Former Officer Roger Halstead was the first to file a suit against the former lieutenant and the city in 2020. According to court documents, Halstead’s case was dismissed in federal court, and his appeal was initially dismissed due to the plaintiff’s lawyer’s failure to file an appellant’s brief by a certain date. However, as of March 14, the appeal was reinstated.
In an emailed statement, city spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher said the city has a duty to defend itself against these allegations.
“Current allegations facing the City related to its police department have not been successful in the courts,” she said. “When frivolous allegations are made, the City has a duty to defend itself.”
Hirsch and the other speakers referenced the Espinoza case as well as the recent firing of former prisoner transport officer Brian Bolden, who was one of the officers who initially accused Espinoza of sexual harassment in 2020. Bolden was put under investigation for violating policies related to “misuse of position” and “public criticism” after he told reporters about the Jan. 26 arrest of former Dunwoody Sgt. Robert Parsons. Parsons was arrested for driving under the influence after he crashed his car into a pole, in what was his second DUI since 2018.
An investigation found that Bolden misused his position and did not go through the proper channels when obtaining a booking photo of Parsons. The investigation found that he did not violate the public criticism policy or other policies related to unlawful activity.
Former Dunwoody Officer Austin Handle claimed the investigation into Bolden was improper.
“The outcome of that phony investigation into Brian Bolden by Chief Billy Grogan displays the blatant misuse of authority that Grogan routinely practices,” Handle said. “He long ago lost the confidence of his officers and you can tell by the dwindling numbers of employment here. It’s time for the citizens of Dunwoody and for the leaders of Dunwoody to take a stand against that.”
Handle was fired from the department in 2020 in what he alleges was a case of retaliation for speaking up about officer misconduct. The department has previously denied Handle’s claims, saying that he was fired due to a separate internal affairs investigation that found he allegedly used his police car’s emergency equipment and sped through his neighborhood, and then lied about it to command staff. A state employment board recently found that the department did not have enough evidence to support that Handle lied during the investigation into the incident. The department has previously stated that it stands by the decision to fire him, and Boettcher said the city has no further comment on employment claims.
“We litigate in court, when necessary, and not in the media,” she said.
Local activist Lydia Singleton-Wells also spoke at the meeting. Wells helped organize Black Lives Matter protests in Dunwoody in 2020, and previously stated that she hoped to become a community liaison between the city and residents. Wells said she believes that the Dunwoody Police Department has a leadership problem, and if the current police leadership couldn’t address department issues, the city should find a leader who can.
“When we start to intimidate and incriminate people who are brave enough to speak up about problems that are going on in the workplace, it’s time for a change,” Wells said. “Our Dunwoody police officers deserve to work in a place where they feel safe and heard. They shouldn’t feel excluded or attacked for making mention of problems or crimes that they have witnessed or experienced in the workplace.”