Cops suing department speak out
In November, two Black Buffalo police officers and a mental health clinician sued the department and their commanding officer for creating a “hostile” and “discriminatory” work environment.
Now the police department is insisting the officers return to work, while the captain they accused of unleashing a racist rant in the workplace is being paid to stay at home.
The two officers — six-year veteran Katelynn Bolden and 15-year veteran Brandon Hawkins — told Investigative Post in an exclusive interview that they’re not ready to come back. They want assurances the department will protect them and create “a safe space” for other officers of color to come forward when confronted with racism in the department.
“The least they could do is guarantee a safe work space for us, and they can’t even do that,” Bolden said. “I’m walking into a question mark, and I don’t like that.”
Hawkins and Bolden claim Capt. Amber Beyer, head of the department’s Behavioral Health Team, let loose a racist diatribe in the team’s offices at police headquarters last May, then harassed the officers after they lodged a formal complaint with their superiors.
The two officers say the department did nothing to address their complaints in the weeks and months that followed. They were compelled to continue working under Beyer, who faced no apparent discipline for her alleged remarks or subsequent harassment, despite an Internal Affairs investigation.
Nothing changed, the officers said, until they filed their lawsuit in federal court, detailing the things Beyer said and did.
Investigative Post broke that story on Nov. 22. The following week — seven months after the incident — Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia suspended Beyer.
Now, the commissioner has ordered Hawkins and Bolden to return to work, while Beyer — still under suspension — sits at home, collecting her salary.
“To be very honest, I’m terrified to go back to work, because there are people that think like her,” Bolden said. “There are people that support her. We don’t know who is on our side or not.”
The commissioner doesn’t want Bolden and Hawkins back with the Behavioral Health Team. Instead, Gramaglia wants them to report to work in his office, under his supervision.
That’s not right, Hawkins said. He said officers are sometimes parked in the commissioner’s office as punishment or because they’re not wanted elsewhere.
But Hawkins insisted he and Bolden aren’t problem officers. They didn’t go to the media, or elected officials, or community activists with their complaints about Beyer. They went to a superior officer. They cooperated with an Internal Affairs investigation.
Further, he said Gramaglia “ignored us for seven months.”
“We did everything we were supposed to do right. We followed the chain of command,” Hawkins said.
“We come to you with a problem and you ignore us? Because it’s going to make you look bad?”
The May incident
On May 2, according to the lawsuit, several members of the Behavioral Health Team were watching a video that showed two white Kansas City, Mo. patrol officers tailing and then pulling over a Black motorist for no apparent reason. The motorist turned out to be a Kansas City cop, too — a detective. The video went viral as an example of racial profiling.
Beyer didn’t see it that way. She told the officers and other staff in the office she could see “both sides” of the interaction.
Bolden pushed back, she said, insisting it was a clear-cut case. The driver had violated no traffic laws.
That’s when Beyer let loose, Bolden said.
According to the lawsuit, Beyer went on to say:
- She’d be suspicious of a Black man in her mostly white neighborhood in Wheatfield.
- White police officers suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from working in Black neighborhoods, but Black officers did not, because they were more accustomed to violent crime.
- Black men cheat on their wives more often than white men, and every Black officer she knew was unfaithful.
- Some racism toward Blacks was justified, because “Black people commit more violent crime,” according to Bolden.
- The Black officers under her command should try to understand how the criminality of Black people justified white racism.
Bolden said the team was stunned into an awkward silence.
“It’s kind of like, ‘Well, tell me how you really feel,” Bolden said.
Following the chain of command
Hawkins wasn’t present for Beyer’s rant but heard about it from Bolden and Seymour, the mental health clinician. The three were a team that took calls together.
Hawkins grew up in the Kensington-Bailey neighborhood. He said he joined the police force because he’d felt mistreated by a Buffalo police officer during a traffic stop when he was a teenager.
“I got pulled out of my car for [tinted windows] in the middle of Bailey [Avenue] in summer. [The officer] looked down my pants like I had drugs. I felt hopeless. I felt like I didn’t know my rights. So I went into criminal justice.”
He joined the police department in 2007, the same year as Beyer. They attended the police academy together.
Bolden comes from a law enforcement family. She majored in psychology and sociology in college. She joined the force in 2016 and signed on with the Behavioral Health Team when it was formed in October 2020 — part of a package of reforms advanced by Mayor Byron Brown in response to that summer’s street protests against police violence.
Seymour, the mental health clinician, wanted to join the Behavioral Health Team because she knew “it can be very scary [for minorities] when you see police officers.” Her employer, Endeavor Health, had a contract with the police department to provide mental health professionals to the new unit. She requested the assignment.
“Why not allow people of color to see someone who looks like them, and assist them with a difficult time in their life?” she said.
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All were appalled by Beyer’s remarks. After discussing it amongst themselves and other officers, they brought the issue to Lt. Stephen Zipp, a supervisor on the Behavioral Health Team. Internal Affairs opened an investigation.
They say Beyers immediately started lashing out at those who’d complained, pressuring them to drop the matter — to get over it. Beyers insisted she couldn’t be racist because she herself is Hispanic.
“She said, ‘Erica, I don’t understand why you’re upset. I have colored people in my family,’ ” Seymour said. “I was like, ‘Oh, okay’ … and I kind of just walked away.”
Beyer warned them the investigation would go nowhere.
“She actually said that to me in May — ‘Oh, I’m not worried about the investigation, nothing’s going to happen,’ ” Hawkins said.
Sources say the internal affairs investigation into the May incident ended last August, with no apparent punishment for Beyer.
Beyer doubles down
Hawkins said he spent the next several months avoiding Beyer as best he could — skipping a conference they were meant to attend together, working his schedule so it wouldn’t overlap with hers.
One day in late September, Beyer confronted Hawkins in her office and asked why he’d been avoiding her. He said, “I do not feel comfortable around you. I think what you said is racist.”
The next day, Beyer read aloud to the team a social media post that featured multiple uses of the “N word.” She stressed the racial slur each time she came to it, according to the lawsuit.
The team was once again appalled, according to Bolden.
“I even asked her, “Can you say ‘N word’ instead?” she said. “Censor yourself. Have some sense. And she just turns and looks at me and chuckles. ‘Oh, I’m just reading the email.’ ”
That was enough for Seymour. She told her superiors at Endeavor Health she didn’t feel safe working in that environment. How could she be sure officers would protect her on calls if they felt like Beyer did, she said, or resented those who had called out the captain?
“The suggestion was made, ‘Well, maybe we take you off [the team]. Like I did something wrong because I was uncomfortable with Captain Beyer’s statements,” Seymour said.
Seymour did not return to the Behavioral Health Team after the September incident. She said she was recently told her position at Endeavor Health was being cut.
Ordered back to work
The three plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in federal court on Nov. 21, represented by attorney Nathan McMurray.
Bolden injured her shoulder in October and went on injury leave. She was ordered to return to light duty on Jan. 16. She has been medically cleared to return to work.
She and Hawkins said they’ve been using vacation, personal and sick days to avoid returning to the office. Bolden said she hasn’t been able to sleep or eat due to anxiety over going back.
Hawkins said he believes he’s doing the right thing, but feels the whole affair will be “a stain on my career,” regardless of the outcome.
Beyer went without pay for the first 30 days of her suspension, which started Dec. 1. After that, the department was obliged by state labor law and the city’s contract with the police union to start paying her again, even though she has not returned to duty.
According to city payroll records, Beyer received her first full paycheck since being suspended on Jan. 19 — $2,735 for two weeks. Usually, with overtime, she makes much more. Her last full paycheck, on Dec. 8, was for $7,686 for two weeks.
Michael DeGeorge, spokesperson for the police department and Mayor Byron Brown, confirmed that Beyer remained on paid suspension.
But he refused to answer any questions about the department’s inquiries into the allegations, any discipline Beyer might face, the commissioner’s plan to bring Bolden and Hawkins back to work, or the department’s efforts — if any — to protect whistleblowers who follow the department’s own procedures to expose bad behavior by fellow officers.
Bolden and Hawkins said other Black officers have come to them with similar stories, but they’re not willing to go public because they see what’s happening to her and Hawkins.
“Why would anyone else come forward? Who wants to deal with this?” Hawkins said.
“You want us to come back to work and be the same productive officers we were before,” he said. “How is that possible? When you have someone who offended us — who talked to us like we didn’t matter — still employed.”
The city’s attorneys filed an answer to the lawsuit on Jan. 4, denying the plaintiffs’ claims. Earlier this week U.S. District Court Justice Kenneth Schroeder ordered the parties to seek a resolution through mediation sessions, which will begin the first week in May.