WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Former Wichita Chief of Police Gordon Ramsay has joined three of his former deputy chiefs in their claims against the City of Wichita. His attorney says that on Monday, Ramsay filed the required notice of his intent to file a lawsuit.
Attorney James Thompson says Ramsay is joining Deputy Chiefs José Salcido and Chester Pinkston and former Deputy Chief Wanda Givens in their claims about corruption and injustice in the City. Ramsay left Wichita earlier this year and was recently elected sheriff of St. Louis County, Minnesota.
“This is not a ‘disgruntled employee’ but rather a unified display by the most senior leadership of the police department, which is unprecedented for any department anywhere in the country and should itself serve as a clear sign that there are serious problems within our city government,” Thompson said in a statement.
The deputy chiefs filed their required notice to sue in September. Ramsay and the deputy chiefs have said they tried to deal with a small number of SWAT members and officers whose beliefs and attitudes “are inconsistent with the principles necessary for proper 21st-century policing.” However, they said their efforts were resisted or outright defied by City Manager Bob Layton, Human Resources Director Chris Bezruki and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
Ramsay’s attorney wrote the 15-page notice of intent to sue. It details Ramsay’s concerns. It says there are small pockets of corruption, sexism, homophobia and racism within the Wichita Police Department (WPD) and the City of Wichita.
Ramsay said he and the deputy chiefs tried to root out and deal with the problems.
“Consequently, agents, employees, and staff of the City of Wichita defamed and retaliated against the Chief Ramsay and his executive staff of the Wichita Police Department and created a hostile work environment for not only Chief Ramsay and his executive staff, but also for anyone who dares try to report or fix problems within the city,” Thompson wrote.
It goes on to say that Layton and Bezruki repeatedly lied about their knowledge of “incidents within this abhorrent subculture and took action to protect and/or conceal it.”
Ramsay claims Layton, Bezruki, and FOP leadership retaliated against him even after he left Wichita.
“Layton, Bezruki, the Fraternal Order of Police and others made a collaborative attempt to silence and discredit Chief Ramsay and the entire executive staff of the Wichita Police Department in order to install new handpicked replacements who would be more pliable, and willing to look the other way,” the notice says.
Ramsay says it is good that the City hired a new chief, and he wishes him well. However, he says it is doubtful the new chief will be able to make needed changes as long as systemic problems with corruption and lack of transparency remain.
Claim against City Manager Layton
Ramsay says the city manager approached at least two police chiefs to violate the law and obstruct a criminal/administrative investigation. He says Layton asked him to show favor and give a pass or restart in an ongoing investigation of a WPD captain. Ramsay claims that Layton also asked Interim Chief Lem Moore the same thing. The investigation was into whether the captain was releasing confidential information about criminal cases.
In the case of a high-profile officer-involved shooting, the WPD executive staff denied a promotion to the officer who was involved. Givens wrote a letter explaining why the officer was denied the promotion. Ramsay’s notice echoes what the deputy chiefs said. It claims 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 notice to the City says that Layton lied about his knowledge of the texting scandal investigation. Ramsay says Layton was personally informed about the text messages and their “repugnant content” and that Layton wanted the texting investigation to “go away.” Ramsay said the City was being sued over an officer-involved shooting. One of the officers in the shooting was allegedly the one from the texting scandal who texted that police shootings are the “ultimate de-escalators.”
According to the notice, Layton told Ramsay that because the officer in the shooting was also involved in the texting case, it required a quick settlement for legal purposes so as not to create additional liability and potential costs for the City. Ramsay and the deputy chiefs said Layton began pushing for the City to settle the lawsuit over the police shooting, which it did.
In the notice, Thompson said that the family involved in the lawsuit apparently did not know about the officer’s texts, “which likely violates the ongoing duty to supplement discovery in ongoing cases.”
Thompson says that if it wasn’t for changes made while Ramsay was chief, the public might never have learned about the texting scandal.
Ramsay says he asked Layton numerous times to keep Bezruki out of police discipline until it reached Bezruki’s level of contractual involvement. Ramsay says Layton refused.
“Layton did not overrule Bezruki when he arbitrarily overturned grievances, and when Bezruki negotiated with the FOP the most favorable contract by far of any city employee organization,” the notice says.
It goes on to say that in his ongoing effort to discredit Ramsay, Layton is marginalizing and trying to force out Pinkston and Salcido by giving assignments to the remaining interim deputy chief.
Thompson says that Layton told at least one applicant for a police chief that he wanted them to come in and “discipline Deputy Chief Salcido and Deputy Chief Pinkston. Chief Ramsay knows this because he was told by the potential appointee what Layton had said to him.”
Claim against Bezruki
Ramsay’s claims about the HR director almost repeat the deputy chiefs’ claims from September. He says Layton was warned about Bezruki’s apparent inappropriate relationship with the FOP. The letter to the City says it appears the HR director accepted free dinners and gifts from the FOP in exchange for preferential contracts and favors toward FOP members.
When the WPD executive staff made decisions that upset FOP members, Ramsay says 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 says Salcido spoke with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office in Kansas City about Bezruki’s relationship with the FOP. As a result, it says the FBI opened an investigation into the case.
The letter also claims that after a male sergeant slapped the bottom of a female officer, Ramsay demoted the sergeant. However, the FOP appealed the demotion, and Bezruki reinstated the sergeant. The City charged the sergeant with battery, but the prosecutor and court later approved a diversion agreement for him.
Ramsay says that on at least three occasions, he heard Bezruki say that not only was slapping the bottom of a female officer “not a sexual battery and should never have been sent to a prosecutor, but he also declared it was not even sexual harassment.”
As for the texting scandal investigation, Ramsay said he was appalled by the text messages. He said he warned Layton that Bezruki should not be involved in the case because of Bezruki’s inappropriate relationship with the FOP. But Ramsay says Layton disregarded the warning. The former chief says Bezruki sided with the FOP, saying the officers were protected by the First Amendment and, therefore, not punishable.
“The outcome of the investigation was dictated by an overly passionate Bezruki,” Thompson wrote in the notice. “You can have the best Chief of Police and 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 Chief of Police. Chief Ramsay and his 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” in the texting scandal on Ramsay and the deputy chiefs and portrayed them as incompetent.
Ramsay says that he and the deputy chiefs were concerned about the WPD “gang list” because it is predominantly comprised of people of color, especially Blacks and Latino men. Ramsay said the concern about the list regarded racial issues, the lack of transparency, and the unregulated placement of individuals on the list. He and the deputy chiefs implemented notifications for parents of children on the list and interventions. He said they also wanted to give people a way to eventually get their names removed from the list, but that the City and the FOP “reacted with hostility and resentment towards these recommendations.”
Another problem was over officer-involved shooting investigations. Ramsay, Salcido and Pinkston say they tried to implement changes in the way the WPD conducts the investigations. But, Ramsay says the FOP vigorously objected. He said the FOP interferes at the scene and in the WPD interview rooms.
“This is contrary to any recognized reasonable best practices for any criminal investigative process and is certainly not a constitutional right or a right under collective bargaining,” Thompson wrote on Ramsay’s behalf. “There is no right to interfere with the criminal process for investigating officer-involved shootings.”
The notice also says that Layton and Bezruki took retaliatory actions against Ramsay and the deputy chiefs, including, but not limited to, withholding already approved pay raises for Salcido and Pinkston for approximately six months.
Ramsay believes the actions against him and his executive staff were part of a concerted effort to discredit them in case they are ever called to testify regarding the work environment and subculture at the WPD and City.
Ramsay says he suffered adverse employment actions because of the “toxic subculture with the WPD and City.” According to Thompson, part of the reason Ramsay left the WPD was “Bezruki’s interference in discipline, and the continued obstruction in Ramsay’s efforts to change department culture, subverting department leadership, stirring unrest and discord within the organization and fueling a toxic culture by Bezruki, Layton and the FOP.”
Ramsay says he suffered a loss of reputation and job opportunities “because of the defamatory comments and publicity by those within the City of Wichita.”
Thompson says that if Ramsay is forced to file a lawsuit, he will likely bring claims of defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and violations of federal and state whistleblower protection acts.
Ramsay is asking for damages of $400,000, which he wants to be put toward hiring an independent investigator into ethical complaints against City leaders and all complaints and findings to be made public in every case.
He also wants a public apology and payment for legal costs and fees. He wants the City to change its policy so that citizen complaints about City employees become public information, along with findings and any discipline received.
Ramsay wants Layton and Bezruki to recuse themselves from any independent third-party review. And he wants the immediate resignation of Layton and Bezruki.
The notice of intent to sue also gives the City notice to preserve all documents related to the claims.
Thompson ends the letter of notice by saying that Ramsay is willing to forgo litigation to bring the matter to a swift and final conclusion upon reasonable settlement. If the City is unwilling to settle
KSN has reached out to the WPD, the City, Layton, Bezruki, and the FOP for their response. The City and the WPD responded that they do not comment on pending litigation.
The FOP provided this response:
“On September 21, 2022, FOP Lodge 5 responded to numerous false statements and insinuations made in a letter to the Wichita City Council from attorney James Thompson. We have reviewed his letter of November 21, 2022, repeating those false allegations. They are no truer today than they were in September.”