DUNWOODY, Ga. — Lieutenant Fidel Espinoza had been with the Dunwoody Police Department since it was created. His career would end with a sudden resignation and a stunning admission.
“Espinoza admitted to me that he had exchanged sexually explicit photographs, videos and comments” with subordinate officers, Police Chief Billy Grogan wrote in his internal affairs report. The report is graphic, and can be viewed in full here.
The police chief personally handled the investigation “due to the serious nature of these allegations,” he wrote, even though Chief Grogan was named in the civil action that launched the investigation.
Lt. Espinoza was a powerful commander in the department’s front office. As the sole administration lieutenant, he was responsible for hiring new officers, and he had the power to place positive or negative reviews in officers’ files.
The police chief’s investigation concluded the sexting ring — involving 10 officers and a top supervisor in a group they called the “F*** Boys” — was all consensual.
“Although it is clear that Espinoza texted/snap-chatted explicit messages, images, texts and videos with several employees and former employees,” the chief wrote, “there is no evidence that Espinoza’s conduct in this regard included any coercion, threats, or promises of preferential treatment in exchange for participation in the conduct.”
The Reveal, 11Alive's investigative team, has obtained text messages that the chief did not include in his internal investigation. Those text messages tell a different story.
The text messages
Chief Grogan attached hundreds of text messages to his internal affairs report, showing multiple male officers and Lt. Espinoza requesting and sharing nude photos of themselves, asking for specific photos of each other’s genitalia, and describing graphic sex acts.
A photo texted by Lt. Espinoza shows an officer using the urinal in the police department men's room, taken secretly from above the next stall.
Screenshots of the texts were provided by Lt. Espinoza and other officers at the chief’s request during his investigation.
In the texts the department has released, the officers are fully engaged with the sexual conduct, and appear to be willing participants. The chief determined that one officer was the “instigator in many of these sexual text messages,” and the chief decided it was not his top lieutenant.
The chief says Officer Roger Halstead had initiated the sexual chats. The same former officer is now suing the chief and the city, and whose notice to sue sparked the investigation.
Former police officer Roger Halstead sued Chief Grogan, the City of Dunwoody, several city officials, and now-former Lt. Fidel Espinoza.
“I had to watch my back more from people in my own department than criminals on the street,” Halstead told The Reveal.
Halstead left the department last year and has had trouble getting a job ever since. He claims in the lawsuit that Dunwoody and Lt. Espinoza have blackballed him because he complained about police supervisors to Dunwoody’s human resources department before he left.
The police department denies those allegations in the chief’s internal affairs report.
A text message sent from Lt. Espinoza to Halstead refers to the lieutenant saying Halstead was “playing with fire” by filing an open records request with another police department to get information on Dunwoody police commanders, and Espinoza warned him, “they know everyone in the state.”
The lawsuit claims Espinoza “threatened him with never being able to work in law enforcement again if he continued with the Open Records Act on other command staff.”
The chief contends that the text exchange was helpful advice about not burning bridges, but that it had the effect of turning Halstead against his friend, Lt. Espinoza.
Halstead’s suit also describes a dual life he says he was forced to lead in order to keep his job. “Espinoza’s activities were not consensual with Halstead but considered a quid pro quo for continued employment status,” the lawsuit claims.
The other texts
Roger Halstead gave The Reveal dozens of text messages not reviewed by the police department. Some were direct messages between Lt. Espinoza and Roger Halstead.
They show a direct connection between positive reviews — known internally as "Guardians" — and requests from Lt. Espinoza for nude photos of Roger Halstead.
Officer Halstead to Lt. Espinoza: “Write me a Guardian from Dunwoody please.”
Lt. Espinoza to Officer Halstead: “All (SIC) write you one if you suck my d*** till I bust.”
After sharing a positive letter from a citizen, Officer Halstead asked the lieutenant for another positive review that could help with promotions and raises.
Officer Halstead: “Will you give me a guardian for that please?”
Lt. Espinoza: “Nice job. Now shut up and show me your ass.”
Officer Halstead texted the lieutenant a screenshot of his arrest statistics, and again asked for a positive entry in the Guardian tracking system.
Officer Halstead: “Number 1 in 4 categories. Citizen contact is citations.”
Lt. Espinoza: “Nice job. Now show me you d***.” (SIC)
Chief Grogan’s internal affairs investigation did not leave open the possibility that Lt. Espinoza tied any official action to demands for sexual favors.
“It is clear that Halstead was very much a willing participant and often initiated the behavior,” the chief wrote.
The chief added, “in the close to 200 screenshots I have collected, there is no evidence that Espinoza threatened to withhold, or even implied that he would, favorable reports or extra jobs if sexually promiscuous discussions were not entertained.”
But the chief had only the messages the target of his investigation and other officers had given him. He did not have the messages Halstead has saved.
Halstead had already notified the department of his intent to sue, and his attorney did not allow him to be interviewed for the internal investigation because it was led by one of the named defendants.
“I like him. I’m gonna hire him.”
Lt. Espinoza was also in charge of recruiting and hiring new officers for the department. He was widely praised for returning Dunwoody police to full force before he resigned.
In a text to the "F*** Boys" group, Lt. Espinoza shared a photo of a job candidate on a motorcycle. He described the candidate as, “another Mexican applying with us.”
Lt. Espinoza texted to the group, “Might let him in the circle of trust. Do you think he’ll go for the occasional d*** grab?”
Halstead told us Lt. Espinoza, “would send us screen shot of people he was vetting, as if we were to evaluate their appearance.”
Halstead sent nude pictures, too
When we interviewed Roger Halstead, he talked about Lt. Espinoza’s demands for nude photos, but did not admit sending any in response.
“You never sent any pictures, right?” The Reveal’s Chief Investigator Brendan Keefe asked.
“Uh, I, I don’t think so,” Halstead replied.
When Chief Grogan released his internal investigation, he included several text messages with nude photos Halstead had sent to the group.
When asked about those by The Reveal, Halstead admitted to lying because he was embarrassed by the question on camera.
Halstead was days away from taking the oath of office to become a Lumpkin County Sheriff’s deputy when the internal affairs report was released. The sheriff rescinded the employment offer after the report was released by Dunwoody.
Halstead has been unable to get a job for over a year, he says, because of Dunwoody’s actions.
What did command staff know and when did they know it?
“The whole command staff. They all knew,” said Jailor Brian Bolden.
Bolden is currently employed by the department as the prisoner transport officer, and he has filed a notice of intent to sue the department.
When he was called in for questioning during the chief’s investigation, Chief Grogan said, “there will be, (before correcting himself) or never will be, any kind of retaliation for the fact that you went outside and got an attorney and filed this.”
Bolden has since been reprimanded for holding his phone while driving the prisoner transport van, and using inappropriate language.
Halstead’s lawsuit includes allegation from Bolden that Lt. Espinoza repeatedly asked him to engage in sexual activity. Bolden told The Reveal that Espinoza asked him, “when are you going to come up to my ranch, and spend some quality time with me. Show me how well you suck d***. He also asked me was a top or bottom type of guy.”
Chief Grogan’s report determined the entire command staff was in the dark about Bolden’s claims, and that Espinoza had, “denied asking Bolden if he would like to spend the weekend at his house and show him ‘how well he can suck d***,’” the chief wrote.
The internal affairs report absolved the entire command staff of knowledge or wrongdoing, with the exception of Lt. Espinoza.
Lt. Espinoza was allowed to resign voluntarily without notification to the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) that he had resigned in lieu of termination or under investigation.
Chief Grogan did write that he would be forwarding his internal affairs report to POST for review, but it’s not clear who would be the subject of any subsequent POST investigation.
We asked the chief via email why Espinoza was allowed to resign without reporting to POST that he was under investigation. The chief, who had replied to every previous email from us, did not respond. Later that same day, an emergency city council meeting was called. We don’t know what was discussed because the council retreated into a closed executive session.
The next day, the chief said he had received special permission to release the full internal affairs investigation and evidence. He would have been required to do so 10 days later under the Georgia Open Records Act, but the report was sent by press release to all media outlets immediately on the eve of the three-day Independence Day weekend.
Lt. Espinoza’s word
Fidel Espinoza was the face of Dunwoody Police for years as the department’s public information officer. He also created the Christmas for Kids program, and was involved with the Dunwoody Police Explorers, a scouting program for teens to introduce them to police work.
Espinoza was trusted by the command staff, and he was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant, then promoted again to administration lieutenant in the front office.
In Chief Grogan’s internal affairs report, the department accepts both Lt. Espinoza’s confession and his denials without question. Espinoza’s denials are accepted as fact.
It’s not the first time the department believed Espinoza’s word over that of a subordinate officer making accusations of a sexual nature.
The 2016 allegations
Officer Chris Valente risked his career to file a written complaint against Lt. Espinoza in 2016.
Officer Valente wanted to be assigned to a drug task force. Lt. Espinoza, according to Valente’s complaint, replied that another officer would get the assignment because, “he sucks d*** better than you.”
The accusation was investigated by Major Oliver Fladrich, who dismissed Valente’s complaint because, “Lieutenant Espinoza denied making that statement. The reported comment was not recorded or witnessed by anybody and cannot be verified one way or the other.”
The major concluded, “based on the totality, I recommend no further action.”
Officer Valente later resigned voluntarily, according to his POST file.
But that's not the whole story.
In Chief Grogan’s internal affairs report, the Valente affair was dismissed as a joking matter.
“This complaint was investigated, and it’s clear from a review of the complaint, Fladrich’s report, and my interview with Valente that Espinoza could not have intended the statement (which he denied making) to be taken literally. It could not have been literal because Valente never performed such an act and therefore Espinoza had no basis for making any comparison. Valente made clear that he did not regard the comment as a proposition but as a joke, but felt nevertheless that it was inappropriate and unprofessional.”
The chief shared a series of recent, friendly texts between Valente — now a detective with the Loganville Police Department and a drug task force member with the DEA — and Espinoza after his resignation.
“I have no issues with you,” Valente wrote.
“I wanted to tell you that as a man and again I have nothing but love for you,” he added.
The Reveal filed an Open Records Act request with Dunwoody for Valente’s resignation letter. Instead, the city responded by sending several previously-undisclosed documents showing an agreement between Valente for his resignation during an investigation related to his allegations against Lt. Espinoza.
In an email to Chief Grogan on Aug. 8, 2017, Officer Valente wrote, “I never lied to you, or anyone in the department. Looking back on the incident I wish I did so many things differently however I never lied or intentionally deceived you, or anyone else for that matter.”
Officer Valente added, referring to a concluded internal investigation, “I plan to continue to serve my community as a police officer, [so] I ask that I be allowed to continue doing so with my good name sir. I understand you have job to do, and I understand that what’s done is done.”
Referring to a finding in the investigation, Officer Valente wrote, “I am not asking for this investigation to be swept under the rug, only that the allegation of untruthfulness be unfounded. I know in my heart that I am not a liar, and I hope you can find it in your heart to believe me.”
The chief responded that, “although I certainly sympathize with you about the issue, I can’t change the findings of the investigation.”
That same month, Officer Valente signed an agreement with the City of Dunwoody promising not to sue. He agreed to resign with that resignation listed as voluntary, and the agreement called for a payment of $10 to Valente from the city.
Records provided by Dunwoody show that Valente made subsequent requests for letters of good standing as he applied to work for other police departments. Dunwoody complied.
There is no mention of Valente’s signed agreement not to sue the department in Chief Grogan’s review of the 2016 allegation in the latest internal affairs report. There is also no mention that the department believed Lt. Espinoza’s word over that of a subordinate officer in the 2016 case.
“After that, I knew Fidel was untouchable, if nothing came of that,” Halstead said in our interview.
Halstead told us Lt. Espinoza said to him, “on several occasions, ‘look at what happened to Chris Valente.’”
The Reveal team has been unable to locate Fidel Espinoza. The former lieutenant’s cell phone has been disconnected. He did not respond to emails or text messages offering him a chance to respond to the allegations. His social media accounts have been deactivated.
Espinoza is originally from Palm Beach County, Florida and still has family there. He served as a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy before resigning in 2005 to enter the Catholic seminary. He dropped out of the seminary after a year and a half of study, shortly before he would have become a priest, according to his application to become a police officer in Doraville.
Espinoza has worked for five police departments, and personnel records show he generally excelled in every position.
During his first law enforcement job with the Carrollton Police Department, Espinoza was arrested for driving under the influence. He was allowed to keep his job after POST issued a public reprimand and put his police certification on two years’ probation.
Espinoza’s current POST file shows he is in "good standing" and, because he is listed as resigning voluntarily from Dunwoody, he is eligible to work for any police department in Georgia.
The Reveal is an investigative show exposing inequality, injustice, and ineptitude created by people in power throughout Georgia and across the country.