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Lawsuit Reveals That Wyoming’s First Black Sheriff Fired White Deputy Who Got Away With Racism For Years

In one incident, the White deputy allegedly yelled the N-word at a Black officer and his family.

A recent federal lawsuit revealed that Wyoming’s first Black sheriff terminated a White deputy accused of racially harassing a subordinate Black officer.

The Associated Press reports that former Cpl. Jamin Johnson on Jan. 18 filed a discrimination suit in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne against Albany County Patrol Sgt. Christian Handley. It cites several alleged examples of Handley spewing racist slurs and comments at Johnson, which caused Johnson to quit his job in 2017.

According to the lawsuit, the “overt and abhorrent racism” incidents began when they were both deputies from 2011 to 2014 and Johnson was the department’s only Black officer. This was before Aaron Appelhans became the state’s first Black sheriff in 2020.

In one alleged incident, Handley drove past Johnson’s house and yelled profanity and the N-word at the Black officer, his wife and children as they walked out of their home.

The lawsuit cites another incident that happened in June 2017 when Johnson was in the common area of the sheriff’s office, according to The Washington Post. Handley asked Johnson if he ever had sex with a Black woman. “Because that would be nasty,” Handley’s accused of saying. “That is like having sex with a dog.”

Handley is also accused of using racial slurs toward Black citizens he encountered on the job, including four University of Wyoming students during a traffic stop.

According to the lawsuit, Handley was a member of the department’s “old boys’ club” and was promoted ahead of Johnson, who was more experienced. After becoming Johnson’s boss, Handley allegedly wrote a performance review that accused the Black officer of misconduct.

The AP said Handley declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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According to The New York Times, Appelhans was appointed sheriff to serve out the term of former Sheriff David O’Malley. He abruptly retired early amid a lawsuit over Albany County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Colling’s fatal shooting in 2018 of Robbie Ramirez, an unarmed man with mental illness.

Appelhans told the AP that he became aware of the racist incidents shortly after becoming sheriff and launched an internal review two months after taking office.

The probe found that Handley’s racism was “widespread and well-known,” according to the lawsuit. Appelhans terminated Handley after the investigation in early 2021.

“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.”

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