WPD deputy chiefs seek settlement from City of Wichita for defamation

Deputy chiefs for the Wichita Police Department are calling for Wichita City Manager Bob Layton and Human Resources Director Chris Bezruki to resign.
Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 1:45 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Monday night Update: Wichita City Manager Robert Layton Monday night issued a statement after reviewing the demand letter issued by Attorney James Thompson on behalf of two Wichita Police Department deputy chiefs and one former deputy chief. In the letter, the deputy chiefs allege Layton, City of Wichita Human Resources Director Chris Bezruki, the Fraternal Order of Police and others “resisted, or outright defied, actions by the executive staff” to address disciplinary issues within the Wichita Police Department.

Layton refuted the allegations in the following statement.

“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.”

Two deputy chiefs and one former deputy chief for the Wichita Police Department are calling for Wichita City Manager Bob Layton and Human Resources Director Chris Bezruki to resign immediately. They’re also requesting a $2,185,000 settlement for defamation.

Attorney James Thompson issued a demand letter on behalf of Deputy Chiefs Jose Salcido and Chester Pinkston, and former Deputy Chief Wanda Givens on Monday.

In the letter, the deputy chiefs allege Layton, Bezruki, the Fraternal Order of Police and others “resisted, or outright defied, actions by the executive staff” to address disciplinary issues within the Wichita Police Department.

“Layton and Bezruki repeatedly lied about their knowledge of incidents within this abhorrent subculture and took action to protect and/or conceal it,” the letter states.

A rift between WPD executive leadership and Layton came to light in March of 2022 when it was revealed to the public the group of Wichita police officers, Sedgwick County Sheriff’s deputies, and Wichita firefighters had shared racist and homophobic text messages and memes.

Layton said he had recently found out about the text messages in February 2022, but the deputy chiefs said that was not true.

“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.

According to the notice letter, Layton knew about the text messages because one of the officers who participated in the thread was also involved in the March 10, 2012, police shooting that killed Marquez Smart, a 23-year-old Black man in downtown Wichita.

“Layton realized how damaging the text messages could be to ongoing litigation once those racist and violent memes became public because one of the officers who shot Marquez Smart was also involved in the texting scandal and sent the ‘ultimate de-escalators’ text message stating, ‘you three [members of SWAT] are the ultimate ‘de-escalators on the team…each of you not only descalated[sic] a SWAT call or soon to be a SWAT call but permanently descalated[sic] people who need permanent deescalation[sic].”

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett cleared the officers in the case in November 2012. Smart’s family then sued the City of Wichita but the case was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in 2018. Then, in 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal. The city requested to settle the case with Smart’s family for $900,000. The case was settled on July 13, 2021, two months after the inappropriate texts were discovered.

The letter also addressed the current promotion of former Deputy Chief Troy Livingston to the interim police chief. The letter said Livingston’s previous employment with the department 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.” Livingston is set to assume his new role effective Tuesday, September 27.

The notice letter also claims Layton lied about having a copy of a “skip letter” detailing why an officer who had been involved in a “high-profile officer-involved shooting” would not be promoted by executive staff. The attorney tells 12 News the skip letter was for Officer Justin Rapp who shot and killed Andrew Finch during a swatting incident on Dec. 28, 2017.

The letter goes on to state that WPD leadership asked that Bezruki be kept out of police discipline “until it reached his level of contractual involvement.” The letter then details an incident when Bezruki met with the FOP and changed his decision regarding an incident involving “a male officer inappropriately (who) took a female officer into the bathroom of a bar.”

The letter also claims that after meeting with the FOP, Bezruki overturned the demotion of a sergeant who was accused of slapping a female officer on the buttocks. The letter states Bezruki failed to recognize the incident as either sexual battery or sexual harassment.

“Bezruki intentionally undermined the executive staff in the eyes of the officers and created additional discord within the police department. Most importantly, Bezruki’s reversals sent a clear message to the executive staff that Bezruki controlled discipline over the officers, and the FOP controlled Bezruki,” the letter reads.

The notice letter mentions other issues such as the city and FOP’s hostile reaction to a panel that would regulate the placement of individuals on the “gang list.”

Following the incident involving the reversal in the sexual harassment case, Deputy Chief Givens filed a complaint with the Kansas Human Rights Commission and “retired and left her employment with WPD rather than continue subjecting herself to continued discrimination and a hostile work environment.”

The letter claims the City of Wichita threw “Deputy Chief’s Salcido and Pinkston under the proverbial bus to defame and discredit claimants and protect the City Manager, the HR Director, and others.”

“In retaliation for warning about the inappropriate relationship between the FOP and Bezruki, and for their positions on sexual harassment, the racist/violent texts, and for refusing to give Wichita Police Department Officers special treatment as demanded by the FOP, Bob Layton and Chris Bezruki took retaliatory actions against the executive staff including but not limited to withholding already approved pay raises for claimants Deputy Chiefs Salcido and Pinkston for approximately six months,” the letter states.

In addition to the damages requested, the deputy chiefs have asked that Layton and Bezruki recuse themselves from any third-party independent review and any disciplinary proceedings regarding Deputy Chief Pinkston or Deputy Chief Salcido.

The letter also requests that the city preserve and not destroy any documents related to their claims.