The city of Dunwoody has spent nearly $153,000 this year to defend against one lawsuit and three other complaints alleging sexual harassment and other issues in the police department. And it is prepared to spend another $50,000 or more in a contract approved by the City Council Oct. 12.
City spokesperson Jennifer Boettcher said the city may be able to get the legal expenses reimbursed by insurance.
Attorney R. Read Gignilliat of the Atlanta firm Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp and Wilson is representing the city. As of Oct. 16, the city this year had already paid the firm $152,832, according to Boettcher. Those payments were made as part of a professional services contract that did not require council approval, she said. Gignilliat has represented the city in various employment matters since its founding in 2008.
The new contract for Gignilliat’s services will last one year, according to City Manager Eric Linton. Under the contract, Gignilliat will charge the city $315 per hour, which is discounted from his normal rate of $490 per hour.
The city anticipates that those rates could cost $50,000 or more. Assistant City Manager Jay Vinicki said the council needs to approve any contract where spending is $50,000 or more. Boettcher said the council’s approval provided an “extra layer of transparency” to the issue.
Former Dunwoody Police Officer Roger Halstead filed a lawsuit July 7 that claims that former police Lt. Fidel Espinoza sexually harassed him and demanded sexual materials in exchange for work benefits, then arranged for retaliatory firing and blackballing by other departments. Civilian transport officer Brian Bolden claims Espinoza bullied and sexually harassed him and falsely accused him of theft.
Gignilliat will defend against Halstead’s lawsuit and a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by Bolden, according to the contract. Two other people have filed intent-to-sue notices regarding Espinoza, which Gignilliat will also handle.
Former officer Austin Handle claims misconduct and retaliation against him from the department’s command staff. Officer Bryan Castellanos alleged Espinoza also sexually harassed him by sending and demanding sexual photos and videos.
Police Chief Billy Grogan issued an investigative report that ruled the substance of Halstead and Bolden’s claims to be untrue or unproven. Gignilliat wrote the city’s response to Handle’s complaint, which denied all his claims.
Gignilliat has successfully represented employers before such bodies as the Georgia Supreme Court, according to the firm’s website. According to media reports, his work includes representing the city of Thomson, Georgia, in a 2018 wrongful-termination lawsuit from a former police captain, and advising the Gwinnett County ethics board in the 2017 case of a county commissioner who called U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig.”
–Erin Schilling and John Ruch