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Dunwoody PD probe: Ex-lieutenant asked for nude photos from officers

6/10/2019 — Atlanta, Georgia — Dunwoody police cars are parked outside of the City of Dunwoody municipal building, Monday, June, 10, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
6/10/2019 — Atlanta, Georgia — Dunwoody police cars are parked outside of the City of Dunwoody municipal building, Monday, June, 10, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

A former Dunwoody officer filed a lawsuit against leaders of the city and police department Tuesday, days after an internal investigation ruled there was truth to allegations that a former lieutenant asked for nude photographs from at least three employees.

The investigation into Fidel Espinoza followed complaints of sexual harassment and retaliation from the former police officer and a current prisoner transport officer, who was not named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Espinoza resigned from the department May 11 after attorney Laura Austin sent a formal notice to the city and police department about the allegations, prompting the internal investigation. Austin’s April 29 letter to the city demanded a total of $1 million in damages.

Released publicly on Thursday, the 146-page investigative report details the dozens of accusations made against Espinoza and other supervisors. Austin's clients described a toxic environment in which they felt they would be penalized if they spoke out about the alleged harassment. Though she only filed a lawsuit on behalf of one former employee, Austin said other clients may be part of future litigation.

The internal investigation, conducted by police Chief Billy Grogan, found that Espinoza asked male officers for nude photos and sent them his own nude pictures, but it found no evidence they were explicitly tied to “any expectation of preferential treatment.” The officer involved in the lawsuit also sent explicit photos to Espinoza, the investigation states. Austin’s letter said the officer “felt compelled to play along with” the sexual interaction, and he believed it was tied to favorable reports and extra jobs.

Austin told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she has evidence that Espinoza was involved in a “quid pro quo” with the employees.

Grogan’s investigation ruled that several allegations of retaliation and targeted discipline against the employees were “unfounded.” It states the former officer involved in the lawsuit had several disciplinary issues.

“The report speaks for itself,” Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch said in a statement after the report was released. “I encourage everyone to read the report carefully and include all attachments.”

Grogan issued a similar statement Thursday; a spokesman for the police department said that because the investigation “involves personnel issues, as well as potential litigation, there will be no further comments regarding this matter at this time.”

Espinoza could not be reached for comment Monday.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday names Espinoza, Grogan, Deutsch, and several other members of the city and police staff as defendants. It asks for a jury trial and $500,000 in damages.

Records show the police department received a complaint from another officer — who is not part of the lawsuit — about the former lieutenant in 2016; the complaint included an allegation that Espinoza made a sexually explicit remark to him. No formal disciplinary action was taken at the time.

Dunwoody police cars are parked outside of the City of Dunwoody municipal building.  (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Dunwoody police cars are parked outside of the City of Dunwoody municipal building. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Austin’s clients both said they had previously complained verbally about Espinoza, though Grogan said police supervisors and Dunwoody’s human resources manager had not received any sexual harassment complaints from either of them until this March.

Following the recent investigation, Grogan wrote, there is “no doubt that Espinoza exchanged sexually explicit text messages and (Snapchats) with at least three employees.” The investigation includes screenshots of texts and censored versions of the nude photographs.

In one instance, the report states, Espinoza took an explicit photograph of an officer going to the bathroom in the urinal next to him, and sent him the photo later that evening. He received messages from Espinoza from 2017 to 2020 using vulgar language and asking for pictures and sexual favors, according to screenshots included in the report. That officer was not part of the lawsuit filed Monday, but he has obtained an attorney.

Espinoza began working for Dunwoody police when the department was formed in 2009, rising to the rank of lieutenant in 2015, according to police records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council show Espinoza attended a training session called “Preventing Workplace Harassment” in 2013. In his most recent Dunwoody performance evaluations, his supervisors reported he “Exceeds Expectations.”