Aaron Appelhans called for an internal assessment of officers within the agency almost immediately after taking office as Wyoming’s first Black sheriff. In just two months, the investigation showed that one of the department’s white deputies used his influence and rank to intimidate and oppress a Black colleague, forcing him to retire.
Many people believed the deputy in question was a “well-known” racist, according to the report.
Sergeant Christian Handley, a white guy, has been harassing Corporal Jamin Johnson, a Black man, for years, according to CBS News. Johnson is now suing Handley in federal court, claiming that the investigation carried out by Sheriff Appelhans is the basis of his current federal case.
“Relentlessly demeaned Mr. Johnson with racial slurs and innuendos, even once in front of Mr. Johnson’s wife and children,” the suit states. Handley later apologized, claiming he was unaware the family was present.
The case, which was filed on Tuesday, Jan. 18, in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, Wyoming, shows that the torture was so severe that Johnson resigned in 2017 after a decade of service.
Handley demonstrated levels of “racism, prejudice, and intolerance in the workplace (that) nearly beyond comprehension,” according to the report.
Johnson is seeking damages for the years he was abused on and off the job by Handley, and he is willing to go to a jury trial.
When the two were deputies from 2011 to 2014, and Johnson was the only Black officer in the department, Handley began displaying “overt and vile bigotry,” according to the petition.
One time, he told Johnson that having sex with a Black lady would be demeaning. “Mr. Handley inquired as to whether Mr. Johnson had ever had sex with a Black lady,” according to the lawsuit. Mr. Johnson was taken aback and said nothing. ‘Because that would be awful,’ Mr. Handley continued. That’s the equivalent of having sex with a dog.’
Handley moved up the ranks of the sheriff’s office despite his alleged racism, and became a “trusted voice” in employment matters. He was promoted to patrol sergeant, a rank superior to Johnson, as a member of the “old boys’ club,” according to the lawsuit.
As his boss, Johnson was forced to have Handley conduct numerous of his job performance reviews — a guy who once drove by Johnson’s house and yelled profanity and the N-word at him as he, his wife, and children were leaving. Handley is accused of lying in his review and accusing Johnson of wrongdoing throughout that year.
Handley “unleashed pent-up racism” towards Johnson, according to the document, and took “many other bogus disciplinary procedures” against him “intended to induce his retirement.”
The sergeant’s mission was accomplished.
Despite Johnson’s lawsuit saying that the charges were “completely unfounded,” then-Sheriff Dave O’Malley sided with Handley and took disciplinary action against Johnson, a deputy who had served in his office from 2007 until 2017.
He was given the option of accepting a suspension, a downgrade to patrol deputy, or leaving the sheriff’s department. According to the lawsuit, Johnson resigned his work on Aug. 2, 2017, because continuing would have meant “enduring more racism, more bigotry, and more discrimination, none of which was tolerable.”
Handley’s bigoted behavior, according to the lawsuit, extended beyond his interactions with Johnson to any Blacks he encountered while on duty, regardless of age.
“Mr. Johnson once stopped several Black folks in a vehicle,” it said, citing another example of his racism. Mr. Handley, the supervisory officer, came at the stop only to inquire, ‘What did these [N-words] do?’ These kinds of remarks were common.”
Handley allegedly used racist insults such “jigaboo” or “N-word” to disparage Black persons, according to the lawsuit.
The allegations in the claim occurred three years before Appelhans took office as sheriff in late 2020.
Handley’s background was unknown to the history-making sheriff until after he assumed office. Despite an investigation into racial intolerance in his office, he has instituted mechanisms of change in the way things are done on his watch since then.
Internal investigations were relocated out of his office and safeguarded in the county human resources office in 2021. He personally checks off on all hires, promotions, and dismissals as the executive in his office. He also fired Handley.
He said, “It’s really upsetting to learn how long it had been going on before my arrival.”
“I’ll constantly continue to make sure that our department is not just welcoming to individuals who wish to work in our department, but also welcoming to those in our community,” Appelhans said of the discovery and his changes.
The lawsuit quotes the findings of the investigation that got Handley terminated as saying, “[The] vile and unforgivable racism carried out by Mr. Handley that ultimately forced Mr. Johnson out of his dream job.”
With his case, Johnson seeks specific damages, including lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, and punitive penalties. Handley has until January 18 to file a response to the complaint. Handley is the only person or entity mentioned in the lawsuit.