Sheriff Aaron Appelhans, Wyoming’s first black sheriff fired a ‘racist’ white deputy ‘who taunted a black colleague with vile slurs and drove him to quit’
A new lawsuit claims that Albany County Patrol Sgt. Christian Handley, who is white, discriminated against a black fellow officer, Cpl. Jamin Johnson, for years
Lawsuit claims that Handley began subjecting Johnson to ‘overt and abhorrent racism’ when they were both deputies from 2011 to 2014
Johnson alleges that Handley used racial slurs to refer not only to himself, but to black citizens he came in contact with on the job
Handley also allegedly drove past and yelled a profanity and the N-word at Johnson while the black deputy, his wife and children were walking out of their home
Johnson claims that soon after being promoted to patrol sergeant, Handley wrote a performance review accusing Johnson of engaging in misconduct
Johnson claims the performance review indicated Handley was taking notes on Johnson and ‘decided to unleash pent-up racism’ after becoming his boss
The racism allegations against Johnson happened more than three years before Sheriff Aaron Appelhans’ appointment as Wyoming’s first black sheriff in late 2020
Appelhans took over in Laramie, becoming Wyoming’s first black sheriff, and reviewed the allegations early last year
Appelhans fired Sgt. Handley after the investigation in early 2021
Wyoming’s first black sheriff fired a white deputy who allegedly tormented the only black officer in the department with the n-word for years before the fed-up target of the over-the-top racist hazing quit the department.
The discrimination suit, filed last week in the U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, claims Albany County Patrol Sgt. Christian Handley subjected Cpl. Jamin Johnson to ‘overt and abhorrent racism’ when they were both deputies from 2011 to 2014.
Handley was then promoted and continued hurling racial slurs like the n-word and ‘jigaboo’ at his underling before Johnson handed in his resignation in 2017, according to the lawsuit.
Handley displayed ‘racism, bigotry and discrimination in the workplace (that) almost defies belief,’ the lawsuit states.
In late 2020, Aaron Appelhans took over in Laramie, becoming Wyoming’s first black sheriff, and reviewed the allegations early last year. **He fired Handley soon after.
Less than one percent of Wyoming’s 600,000 residents are black and in Albany County 90 percent of residents are white, with a majority of the remaining ten percent identifying as Hispanic, CBS Denver reported.
Johnson alleges that Dep. Handley, his erstwhile fellow officer used racial slurs to refer not only to Johnson himself, but to black citizens he came in contact with on the job, including four University of Wyoming students who were in a vehicle he once pulled over.
Handley also alleges that Handley drove past and yelled a profanity and the n-word at Johnson, his wife and children, as the family were walking out of their home.
‘Mr. Handley later apologized for having not realized that Mr. Johnson’s family was present, as if his vile racism was otherwise acceptable,’ the lawsuit said.
In one instance, Handley allegedly told Johnson that being intimate with a black woman would be degrading.
‘That is like having sex with a dog,’ Handley is accused of saying, according to the lawsuit.
Johnson claims that soon after being promoted to patrol sergeant in 2016, Handley wrote a performance review accusing Johnson of engaging in several forms of misconduct over the previous year.
Johnson claims the performance review indicated Handley was taking notes on Johnson and ‘decided to unleash pent-up racism’ after becoming his boss.
Handley also wrote ‘several other sham disciplinary actions’ against Johnson, ‘all designed to force his resignation,’ the lawsuit alleged
The lawsuit calls Handley’s claims ‘utterly unsubstantiated,’ but says he nonetheless persuaded former Sheriff Dave O’Malley to issue an ultimatum to Johnson: Either accept a suspension and demotion to patrol deputy, or leave the sheriff’s office. Johnson soon resigned.
Johnson is suing Handley, seeking a jury trial if necessary and damages for the years of racism that he says led up to his decision to quit in 2017.
Handley did not respond to a request for comment. He has 60 days from when the suit was filed on Jan. 18 to reply.
The sheriff’s office in Laramie, the Albany County seat, gained notoriety for the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1998, a crime that drew unprecedented attention to LGBTQ rights and hate crimes.
Appelhans said he wasn´t aware of the alleged racist behavior until shortly after he started the job.
An internal review two months after Appelhans took office found that despite Handley’s ‘widespread and well-known’ racism, Handley was emboldened by getting preferential treatment for promotions ahead of the more-experienced Johnson, the lawsuit alleges.
Appelhans fired Handley after the investigation in early 2021, according to the lawsuit.
In his first television interview soon after his appointment, Colorado native Appelhans in an interview with CBS4 observed that his profession could do better at being more inclusive of all races, ethnicities and genders.
“Traditionally, law enforcement kind of attracts the same folks all the time,” Appelhans said, referring to Caucasian males, who traditionally dominate law enforcement in the state.
“You don’t see a lot of people like me in law enforcement. Not a whole lot of people who think like me, or act like me, in law enforcement. Sometimes you got to be first and blaze those trails.”
Out of nearly 600,000 people who call Wyoming home, less than one percent of them are Black. In Albany County, home to the University of Wyoming, 90% of residents are white with a majority of the remaining ten percent identifying as Hispanic.