Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said he has no plans to resign after Wichita Police Department leaders sent a blistering letter to City Hall on Monday threatening a lawsuit if he didn’t immediately step down.
“No, I’m not going to resign,” Layton told The Eagle on Monday. He also pushed back against the letter, which alleges a pattern of misconduct, collusion and cover-up involving him, Human Resources Director Chris Bezruki and the Fraternal Order of Police, calling the charges “outrageous and inaccurate.”
“There’s so many things that are being thrown out, and with just a quick review, many of these things are just not accurate,” Layton said. “I don’t want to give it credibility by going point-by-point, but it bothers me that these kinds of allegations can be made and then given credibility as if they are truth and fact.”
Attorney James Thompson sent the letter Monday to the city on behalf of former Chief Gordon Ramsay’s executive team — Deputy Chiefs Jose Salcido, Chet Pinkston and former Deputy Chief Wanda Givens — who have been criticized for their handling of an investigation into racist and inappropriate text messages sent by members of the SWAT team.
The letter requests a $2.1 million payout to Salcido, Pinkston and Givens to settle out of court. To avoid a lawsuit, they asked for Layton and Bezruki to immediately resign and recuse themselves from any disciplinary proceedings involving Salcido or Pinkston.
Among a tranche of allegations, the letter says “there remain small pockets of corruption, sexism, homophobia, racism, and violence operating within the Wichita Police Department and City of Wichita,” and that “City Manager Bob Layton, Human Resources Director Chris Bezruki, the Fraternal Order of Police and others resisted, or outright defied, actions by the executive staff (of the Police Department) to address these issues.”
Ramsay’s leadership team has come under heightened scrutiny after it failed to discipline the officers involved in the text message scandal. Three officers were later suspended by Interim Chief Lem Moore and Layton after an Eagle investigation into inaction by the city. A committee report from the city manager’s office blamed police leadership — including Ramsay, Salcido and Pinkston — for mishandling the internal investigation.
Ramsay’s executive team says in the letter that they didn’t discipline the officers because they “wanted to avoid the humiliation” of being undermined by the city’s human resources manager.
They’re seeking a public apology from the city of Wichita and claim they are being scapegoated.
The police leaders accused Layton of lying when he told City Council members and The Eagle that he did not know about the text messages until Feb. 25, the day after the Citizen Review Board initially received a briefing on how the Professional Standards Bureau handled the case. Layton said he does not remember being told by Ramsay or anyone else about the text messages before February.
The letter alleges that Bezruki received gifts and expensive meals in exchange for favorable treatment of the union in contract negotiations and when union members were brought up on disciplinary complaints.
Layton said an investigation into Bezruki did not find any inappropriate relationship or gifts from the Fraternal Order of Police.
“We have not found any merit to that allegation,” Layton told The Eagle. “And we asked for evidence that would help us review that, and we have not been able to obtain that.”
The letter also suggests Layton and Bezruki knew each other before he was hired as the HR director and that Bezruki was the only applicant for the job.
Layton said he did not know Bezruki before he applied and that Bezruki was one of six candidates for the job.
The letter outlines multiple instances alleging Bezruki overruled Ramsay’s leadership team on officer disciplinary action before and after Ramsay’s team decided not to pursue discipline for the text messages.
“Bezruki’s reversals sent a clear message to the executive staff that Bezruki controlled discipline over the officers, and the FOP controlled Bezruki,” the filing states.
Layton said “that characterization is simply untrue.”
One alleged instance of Bezruki undermining police leadership is in the case of Sgt. Maurice Mitchell, who was charged with misdemeanor battery in September 2020 after he slapped the buttocks of a female co-worker during a training exercise.
The filing states that, at the recommendation of Givens, Ramsay demoted Mitchell from sergeant to officer and a non-supervisory position after an internal investigation. The police union appealed the demotion.
“Despite Mr. Mitchell’s admission as part of the diversion process, Bezruki, as HR director, repeated on at least three occasions that not only was ‘slapping the ass’ of a female officer not a sexual battery, he declared it was not even sexual harassment,” the letter states.
The claimants say police leadership attempted to mediate the matter but Bezruki, “unilaterally, or with the approval of Layton, reinstated Mitchell to sergeant and reversed the decision of executive staff.”
Layton would not discuss the personnel matter with The Eagle, other than to say Bezruki did not make the decision to reinstate Mitchell.
“That doesn’t accurately reflect the final resolution of the case,” Layton said. ” Chris (Bezruki) did not make the final decision in this case. It came out of the mediation and a settlement of mediation.”
Givens filed a grievance with the city against Bezruki after the incident, but the filing alleges that the HR director refused to meet with a city investigator over the course of several months.
Soon after, Givens retired from the department “rather than continue subjecting herself to continued discrimination and a hostile work environment,” the letter says.
Two other inaccuracies surround the selection of an interim chief and a search for a permanent replacement for Ramsay, Layton said.
The letter states Layton “is telling applicants he wants them to come in and discipline Deputy Chief Salcido and Deputy Chief Pinkston.” Layton said he has not talked to any applicants for the chief job and “that was never our intention.”
The letter also questions the hiring of Troy Livingston, who was named interim chief by Layton last week.
Livingston served as a deputy chief under Ramsay until 2019, when he retired.
The letter says Livingston, while a deputy chief, “conspired with the FOP and Bezruki to rehire (an officer Ramsay had fired in 2017).”
It claims “Livingston’s previous employment with WPD ended when it was suggested he retire because of poor performance and he eventually had his access card revoked as he was physically escorted out of the building.”
Layton said he is unfamiliar with the specifics of the Livingston’s involvement in the 2017 reinstatement. But, if Ramsay’s executive team had a problem with it, they did not include it in his employee evaluations, which were “very positive,” Layton said.
“I don’t know why the attempt to cast some type of aspersions on his reputation, but it’s not fair,” Layton said.
“Another (inaccuracy) I can talk about is their attempt to malign Troy Livingston,” Layton said. “We reviewed Troy’s evaluations that are in his file, and Troy got very positive evaluations, including the last one he got before he left. He said he was not escorted out of the building.”
Despite the public fight, Layton said he remains confident in work of the police department.
“We have a pretty professional department, and their day-to-day activities are not going to be swayed by some kind of conversation at the administrative level. They have pretty serious work to do day in and day out in public safety, and I think that’s what people are going to be focused on in the department.”
Layton said he looks forward to a review of his actions and the actions of other city leaders by Jensen Hughes, a consulting firm hired to look into the city’s policing problems.
“What’s important here is that we have to learn from what’s happened over the past few years in the police department,” Layton said. “We’ve brought in a nationally recognized firm to review police operations and culture and also the checks and balances that we have in place for not just the police department but other departments.”
This story was originally published September 19, 2022 8:20 PM.
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