Dunwoody police, ex-lieutenant at center of another sexual harassment lawsuit

This is a screenshot of former Dunwoody Lt. Fidel Espinoza's appearance in a video posted to the police department's Facebook page in 2015.

Credit: Dunwoody Police Department

Credit: Dunwoody Police Department

This is a screenshot of former Dunwoody Lt. Fidel Espinoza's appearance in a video posted to the police department's Facebook page in 2015.

A former high-ranking officer in Dunwoody’s police department is being sued for the second time over sexual harassment allegations, which include asking subordinates for nude photographs.

Fidel Espinoza, a Dunwoody police lieutenant until his resignation in May 2020, is being sued by a former officer and his wife. The lawsuit, which was filed in DeKalb County State Court last week, claims Espinoza sexually harassed the officer until he left the department, and it alleged city and police leadership did nothing to punish Espinoza.

This lawsuit comes shortly after another legal claim against Espinoza — filed by a different former Dunwoody police officer — was dismissed in federal court. That case is being appealed, but the new lawsuit means Espinoza’s alleged actions will continue to hang over the city’s police department for the foreseeable future.

Dunwoody’s spokeswoman declined to comment on pending litigation.

The new lawsuit

Last Thursday, Bryan Castellanos and Leila Castellanos filed their lawsuit against Espinoza. They claim Espinoza sent inappropriate text messages, solicited nude photos and sent explicit photos of himself.

In addition, Espinoza is accused of taking unsolicited photographs of Bryan Castellanos, a fellow officer, in bathroom stalls on multiple occasions, sending the unaware officer the resulting pictures afterward. The lawsuit also claims Espinoza texted Leila Castellanos and asked her inappropriate questions about her and her husband’s sex life.

“The lude (sic) and inappropriate behavior exhibited by defendant Espinoza began in 2017 up until his resignation in May of 2020,” according to the legal complaint. The Castellanos’ attorneys, Mande Gayre Moyer and Benjamin Bengtson, did not respond to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s requests for comment.

The lawsuit names several other defendants, including the city, Dunwoody Police Department, Dunwoody Police Foundation, county board of commissioners and three unknown and unidentified “John Does.”

The lawsuit argues the city and police department are liable for Espinoza’s alleged actions, since they continued to require Bryan Castellanos to “report to and interact with” Espinoza after he complained. The lawsuit also accused the department of failing to take “any remedial action” against Espinoza, who resigned in May 2020 before an internal investigation found evidence of the alleged sexual harassment.

According to Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) records, Espinoza does not currently work at a law enforcement agency.

The legal complaint asks for a jury trial to determine monetary damages due to “assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, negligent retention and/or negligent supervision.”

»Read the full legal complaint document here. Content warning: The document contains details of sexually explicit acts.

The lawsuit under appeal

The internal investigation found evidence that Espinoza asked for nude photographs from at least three police department employees, not just Castellanos.

The investigation prompted a 2020 lawsuit by former officer Roger Halstead, which made many of the same allegations against Espinoza and the police department. The lawsuit also argued there was retaliation against the victims by Espinoza and other department leaders.

Since then, at least one officer claims he was fired for speaking out against the department, and another is currently on administrative leave amid a “public criticism” investigation. The department denied allegations of retaliation and has declined to comment further on pending litigation.

Halstead’s lawsuit progressed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, where Judge Steve Jones dismissed the legal complaint with prejudice on Jan. 4 this year.

According to court documents, the defendants argued that Halstead’s legal team delayed court proceedings and was filing “bad faith” motions. Laura Austin, Halstead’s attorney, told the AJC on Tuesday that she’s appealing the dismissal, since their evidence and arguments were never heard by a judge or jury.

“We’re hoping that they will entertain (the appeal), because we believe that the court should be more interested in hearing the case on the merits rather than the way it’s drafted,” she said.

Attorney Ted Meeker told the AJC he continues to represent Espinoza in Halstead’s lawsuit but he has not been retained to represent him in Castellanos’ lawsuit.

»Read the full motion to dismiss here.