The first Black sheriff in Wyoming's history fired a white deputy who was accused of racism and bullying.
A new federal lawsuit that surfaced this week revealed that Albany County Patrol Sgt. Christian Handley was fired after being accused of tormenting a Black subordinate, Cpl. Jamin Johnson, for years with racist name-calling that led him to quit.
Handley used racial slurs to refer not only to Johnson but 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, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Jan. 18 in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne.
The allegations come at a time when Aaron Appelhans was appointed as the first Black sheriff in the state of Wyoming's history. Appelhans was hired as sheriff in March and fired Handley later last year.
Johnson is suing Handley, seeking a jury trial if necessary and damages for the years of alleged racism that led to him quitting in 2017. Johnson also claimed in the lawsuit that Handley wrote “several other sham disciplinary actions” against him, “all designed to force his resignation."
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In one allegation, according to the discrimination lawsuit, Handley once drove past and yelled a profanity and the N-word at Johnson while Johnson and his wife and children 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 reads.
Appelhans’ appointment as sheriff came in wake of an outcry in Laramie over a deputy’s 2018 shooting of an unarmed man who had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
The alleged racism against Johnson happened more than three years before Appelhans came into the picture. He said he has made changes in the past year to ensure that all policies are followed, to move internal investigations out of the sheriff’s office to the county human resources office, and to personally sign off on all hires, promotions and dismissals.
“It’s just disappointing to learn how long it had been going on prior to my arrival,” Appelhans said. “I’ll always continue to make sure that our department is not only welcoming to those who want to work in our department but welcoming to those in our community as well.”
The allegations also put a new spotlight on the sheriff’s office in Laramie, the Albany County seat known 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.
Contributing: The Associated Press.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wyoming's first Black sheriff fired white deputy over alleged racism