WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Three deputy chiefs who served under former Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay are demanding almost $2.2 million from the City of Wichita. An attorney representing the deputy chiefs says they also want City Manager Robert Layton and Wichita Human Resources Director Chris Bezruki to resign immediately.
Attorney James Thompson sent a letter to the City Council and the City of Wichita through the clerk of the City. He said it is to put the City on notice of a settlement demand of Deputy Chief José Salcido, Deputy Chief Chester Pinkston, and former Deputy Chief Wanda Givens.
They served as deputy chiefs under Ramsay, who left the department to move back to Minnesota. Salcido and Pinkston remain with the department as deputy chiefs. Givens retired in January. Interim Chief Lem Moore took over from Ramsay but recently announced he is retiring. Last week, the City announced retired Deputy Chief Troy Livingston will take over as interim chief at the end of September.
Thompson says the deputy chiefs are upset that they took a lot of the criticism for how the Wichita Police Department (WPD) handled some controversial electronic and text messages between officers. Some of the messages allegedly included discriminatory images and made light of the use of force.
In his letter to the City, Thompson said that the WPD’s executive staff tried numerous times to root out and deal with the issues and implement much-needed changes for greater transparency and accountability.
“Consequently, agents, employees, and staff of the City of Wichita defamed and retaliated against the command staff of the Wichita Police Department and created a hostile work environment for not only claimants but also for anyone who dares try to report or fix problems within the city,” Thompson said.
He said the city manager, the human resources director, others, and the Fraternal Order of Police resisted or outright defied them.
“Bob Layton and Bezruki repeatedly lied about their knowledge of incidents within this abhorrent subculture and took action to protect and/or conceal it,” Thompson said.
He says Layton, Bezruki and the FOP worked together to try to remove the entire WPD executive staff to install new handpicked replacements who would be more pliable.
The 13-page letter goes on to detail specifics about each case.
Deputy chiefs’ claims about Layton
One of the 13 pages is devoted to criticism of the city manager. The deputy chiefs claim Layton asked Ramsay and Moore to show favor and give a “pass” to a specific captain in an ongoing investigation.
After a high-profile officer-involved shooting, the WPD executive staff denied a promotion to the officer. Givens wrote a letter explaining why the officer was denied the promotion. Thompson says Layton lied that he did not have a copy of Givens’ letter. Thompson said Givens’ letter was part of the officer’s personnel file that Layton could have accessed.
Thompson’s letter to the City says that Layton lied about his knowledge of the texting scandal investigation. The deputy chiefs say he was personally informed about the case. They said he clearly knew about it because he began pushing for the City to settle a lawsuit over a police shooting. Thompson said one of the officers in the shooting was one of the officers who sent a message making light of the use of force.
The deputy chiefs also say that Layton is trying to force Pinkston and Salcido out by giving assignments to the remaining interim deputy chief. They say he is also refusing to consider them for the interim chief position. They say that Layton is telling applicants for the police chief job that, as part of their duties if hired, he wants them to discipline Salcido and Pinkston.
KSN News reached out to Layton for his response to the accusations.
I have just reviewed the letter prepared by James Thompson. The allegations made are outrageous. I have full confidence in the consultant, Jensen Hughes, who was hired to investigate relationships among the Police Department, Human Relations Department, Law Department and City Manager’s Office. I have nothing to hide and look forward to the full review and determination of these allegations by the consultant or a court of law should Mr. Thompson decide to proceed with a legal filing.”Robert Layton, Wichita City Manager
Deputy chiefs’ claims about Bezruki
The deputy chiefs say the WPD executive team warned Layton that the human resources director has an “inappropriate relationship with the FOP.” But they say Layton did not overrule Bezruki when he “arbitrarily overturned grievances.”
The letter to the City says Bezruki accepted free dinners and gifts from the FOP. It says it appears those perks were in exchange for preferential contracts and favors toward FOP members.
When the WPD executive staff made decisions that upset FOP members, the deputy chiefs say the FOP leadership ran to Bezruki, and sometimes Layton, who would overturn those decisions.
The letter relates a case of a male officer who “inappropriately” took a female officer into the bathroom of a bar. The WPD Professional Standards Bureau investigated and recommended discipline. The chief agreed and the investigation went to Bezruki for review. According to the letter, a former HR specialist said the file sat on Bezruki’s desk for weeks until Professional Standards called to check on it. The former specialist said Bezruki instructed her to review it and give him her opinion. She said she did, and she recommended Bezruki sign it. She says Bezruki signed it without reviewing it and then discussed it with Layton for his approval as well.
The letter says that FOP representatives took Bezruki to lunch, and then he reversed his decision about the discipline. It says the former HR worker has many similar stories about Bezruki and the FOP. It also says the former HR worker remembers a woman the City hired because, according to Bezruki, “she was easy on the eyes.”
The letter mentions a WPD officer who was involved in a crash and then left the scene of a crash. The WPD investigated, and Ramsay fired the officer. The letter claims Bezruki reinstated the officer.
The letter says Salcido spoke with the FBI office in Kansas City about Bezruki’s relationship with the FOP. As a result, it says the FBI opened an investigation in the case.
The deputy chiefs say a male sergeant slapped the bottom of a female officer and was demoted. The letter says the FOP appealed the demotion and that Bezruki reinstated the sergeant. The letter says that Bezruki declared that the incident was not even sexual harassment. Givens filed a grievance over Bezruki’s alleged comment, and an investigator was assigned to the case. The letter says Bezruki failed to cooperate, and the City failed to force his cooperation.
The letter says the incident with the sergeant guided how WPD executive staff handled the texting scandal investigation discipline.
“Claimants wanted to avoid the humiliation of Bezruki undermining them again regarding the discipline of the officers,” the letter says. “HR had set the tone on this investigation by telling executive staff the 1st Amendment protected the text messages. Consequently, executive staff attempted to mold the discipline within the framework Bezruki deemed acceptable. You can have the best Executive Staff in the country, but if the HR Director runs discipline and is in bed with the Union, he and the union run the Department and not the executive staff. Executive staff became public scapegoats for the City in its efforts to avoid liability.”
The letter goes on to say the City wrongfully placed the blame for the “lack of punishment” on the WPD executive staff and portrayed them as incompetent.
City of Wichita’s response
KSN News reached out to Berzuki and the City of Wichita for a comment. A City of Wichita spokesperson said, “Unfortunately, we cannot comment on pending litigation, but I appreciate you reaching out.”
Wichita City Council Member Bryan Frye briefly spoke about the letter during the City Council meeting on Tuesday morning. He started with a definition of extortion.
“The definition of extortion — the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats. It’s mindblowing that two current deputy chiefs of the Wichita Police Department have resorted to this tactic,” Frye said. “Deputy Chief Salcido and Pinkston should resign immediately.”
Mayor Brandon Whipple spoke up after Frye’s comments.
“I’ll remind members that we have a firewall up in our ordinance, and we are not to influence the hiring or firing or disciplinary action of employees,” Whipple said. “We have to go through the city manager for that. But all opinions are welcome.”
Because the letter also mentions the FOP frequently, KSN News also reached out for its response. On Tuesday, the FOP sent KSN News a media release that says Thompson’s letter contains numerous false allegations and insinuations regarding FOP representatives and the City’s HR department.
“One example of Mr. Thompson’s false allegations is the insulting insinuation that the FOP was effective as a bargaining representative only because it bought off the City’s HR Manager with ‘expensive lunches,'” the FOP release says. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The FOP says its representatives had occasional lunch meetings with the HR manager, and they took turns paying for lunch at moderately priced locations. The FOP says its representatives also met frequently, sometimes over meals, with the police chief and deputy chiefs, including Salcido and Pinkston.
“Mr. Thompson’s letter not only contains falsehoods but also demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of Kansas law,” the FOP release says. “Mr. Thompson suggests that communications between FOP representatives and the HR Department amounted to corrupt practices. The Kansas Legislature, in the Public Employer Employee Relations Act, created the right for public employees to select representatives to deal with their employers regarding grievances and other terms and conditions of employment.”
The release then includes several paragraphs from Kansas Statute 75-4321. Click here to read the statute.
“The misrepresentation of the relationship between the FOP and the HR Department is only one of the falsehoods contained in Mr. Thompson’s letter,” the release says. “The FOP and its leadership are exploring all legal options to challenge these false allegations.”
The deputy chiefs say they each suffered adverse employment actions because of the toxic subculture with the WPD and the City. They also say they suffered a loss of reputation.
The letter says Givens retired early rather than continue to be subjected to racial and sexual discrimination and retaliation.
Salcido and Pinkston say they were denied their raises for approximately six months despite the raises being approved.
Thompson says the damages requested include:
- $720,000 for Pinkston
- $700,000 for Givens
- $765,000 for Salcido
Thompson says that if the City approves the money, offers a public apology, and Layton and Bezruki resign, the three will consider the matter settled.
“If the City of Wichita is unwilling to settle the claims, they will fully pursue all remedies available to them under the law,” Thompson said.
The letter said the City is on notice to preserve all documents that in any way relate to the incidents mentioned in the letter.
Thompson sent KSN News this additional comment:
Hopefully, the City Council hears their voices and take the appropriate action because Deputy Chiefs Salcido, Pinkston, and Givens deserve our city’s respect and thanks for coming forward.”James A. Thompson, Attorney at Law