Two former Dunwoody Police Department employees were honored on National Whistleblower Day. 

The National Whistleblower Center, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting whistleblowers around the world, celebrated National Whistleblower Day, which fell on July 30, with a weekend-long virtual event. Former Dunwoody Police Officer Austin Handle and former prison transport officer Brian Bolden were two of the people recognized by the nonprofit. Both Handle and Bolden had to submit their names to the center in order to be recognized. 

“For us to be honored and recognized on National Whistleblower Appreciation Day is an emotional moment,” Bolden and Handle said in a joint statement. “NWD is a day that our families will celebrate going forward every year. It is a day that proves we are not alone in seeking sound ethics in both government and policing. Our stories, like many other whistleblowers, are defined by duty, integrity, and service.”

The Dunwoody Police Department fired Handle in 2020, citing an internal affairs investigation that found he allegedly used his police car’s emergency equipment and sped through his neighborhood and then lied about it. But Handle alleges he was fired in a case of retaliation for speaking up about misconduct from former Lt. Fidel Espinoza. In 2020, multiple officers accused Espinoza of sexual harassment. Espinoza resigned about five days after the first complaints were filed. 

DPD Chief Billy Grogan issued a report in 2020 that admitted Espinoza did send improper, sexual messages to officers and employees, but claimed he did not harass or coerce them. Multiple former officers have sued the city due to issues with Espinoza, and since May of 2020, the city has spent more than $400,000 on legal services related to employment matters within the Dunwoody Police Department. 

A state employment board later 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. 

“I hope our inclusion in NWD shows others that it is possible to speak out when they are abused, mistreated, or witness something unethical,” Handle said in an email. 

Bolden is one of the employees who accused Espinoza of bullying and sexual harassment in 2020. The department fired Bolden for not going through the proper channels when obtaining a booking photo of former Dunwoody Sgt. Robert Parsons, who was arrested for driving under the influence after he struck a utility pole with his car. USA Today reported that Bolden alerted reporters to Parsons’ arrest. Both Bolden and Handle previously signed a letter to Congress calling for police reform.

“We are not alone in speaking out against issues like those in the Dunwoody Police Command Staff,” Bolden said in an emailed statement. “It’s important to know that.” 

A spokesperson for the city of Dunwoody did not respond to a request for comment.

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers.