Planeta Venus reviews this year’s tangled mess of allegations and disciplinaries.
By Stefania Lugli
A Hispanic deputy chief and Black former deputy chief accuse inside leadership and the city of Wichita of discrimination and a refusal to discipline — or even acknowledge — acts of racism.
In a letter issued by their attorney, Deputy Chiefs José Salcido, Chester Pinkson and former Deputy Chief Wanda Givens allege that Wichita City Manager Bob Layton, Human Resources Director Chris Bezruki and the Fraternal Order of the Police, WPD’s union, “resisted, or outright defied, actions by the executive staff” when addressing an agency controversy: law enforcement officers sharing racist and homophobic messages in a group chat, publicly revealed by the Wichita Eagle in March.
The Wichita Eagle’s investigation revealed the following:
Some Wichita-area law enforcement officers from the Wichita Police Department and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office were discovered to be sending racist texts and images in a group chat
One text sent by a white Wichita police officer showed a photoshopped image of George Floyd’s murder. It replaced the white officer who had a knee on Floyd’s neck with an image of a naked Black man sitting on his head. One image had a racial slur for Black people. Another text praised SWAT team members for “permanently de-escalating people who needed permanent de-escalation.”
These texts were found during an internal WPD investigation following up on a domestic violence case against a sheriff’s deputy in April 2021
The former deputy chief and two current deputy chiefs for the Wichita Police Department (WPD) published the letter in September. They requested a settlement of over $2 million for defamation and for Layton and Bezruki to recuse themselves from future independent reviews and disciplinary proceedings regarding the deputy chiefs.
“The executive staff of the Wichita Police Department attempted on numerous occasions to root out and deal with those issues and implement much needed changes to create greater transparency and accountability,” the letter states.
“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.”
Layton quickly issued a statement in response to the letter.
“The allegations made are outrageous,” he said. “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.”
Layton claims he found out about the text messages in February, but the deputy chiefs refute that.
“Layton lied to the public and denied knowing about the texting investigation despite WPD leadership personally informing him about the text messages and their repugnant content,” said the letter.
The letter claims that WPD was made aware of the “racist, violent and misogynistic” text messages around May 2021. Once notified, Executive Staff reportedly warned Layton to disinvolve Bezruk, the city’s human resources director, from investigations due to his “inappropriate relationship with the FOP.”
The deputy chiefs allege that Bezruki is uncomfortably cozy with the Fraternal Order of the Police, criticizing the relationship and accusing Bezruki of giving the FOP the “most favorable contract by far of any city employee organization.”
Accusations of marginalization
The letter also accuses Layton of marginalizing Deputy Chief Salcido and Deputy Chief Pinkston, refusing to consider either of them as the department’s next interim chief and disregarding them from new assignments.
Salcido was the first Hispanic man promoted to deputy police chief in Wichita. Former Deputy Chief Givens, also on the letter, is a Black woman.
According to the letter, Deputy Chief Salcido received negative marks on his April 2022 performance evaluation for ordering discipline to an officer regarding the racist text messages. Officer Pinkston, a white man, did not receive the same negative addition to his review — despite being involved in the disciplinary decision.
On October 29, the Wichita Eagle reported that the Fraternal Order of Police is encouraging the city to “overturn disciplinary decisions for the five officers suspended or reprimanded in July for sending offensive text messages,” but pushing forward an effort to discipline those who leaked records to the newspaper in March.
There is no public information as to who leaked the texts, but such internal investigations are usually kept confidential and in-house.