Brett Williams on gay bias ruling against Colorado State Patrol
Brett Williams loved being in the Colorado State Patrol, where he rose to the rank of captain in twelve years. But he says he knows it isn't possible for him to return to the job. Why not? Because Williams was rejected for reinstatement for reasons he believes were connected to his sexual orientation -- he's gay. And a judge has agreed, slapping the CSP for an anti-gay culture exemplified by a background exam and polygraph during which Williams was quizzed about everything from porn to child molestation.
Earlier this month, in a decision on view below, State Personnel Judge Mary McClatchey determined that in dealing with Williams, the State Patrol had demonstrated a clear bias against homosexuals. Due to actions she described as "arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law," she awarded Williams "front pay" -- defined as a damage award representing the additional pay he would have earned if he'd been reinstated -- in addition to attorney fees and costs.
This money won't be forthcoming anytime soon, however. As noted by 7News, the Colorado Department of Public Safety disagrees with the ruling and has announced its plans to appeal -- although the department's executive director, Jim Davis, told the station that the state would voluntarily comply with a number of orders issued by McClatchey, including diversity training and a command-level contact person specifically designated to deal with gay personnel.
These apparent concessions don't convince Williams that the atmosphere for gays at the State Patrol will improve.
"I know they said they'd implement policies and training, but they already have policies in place, and they weren't followed," he says. "And the people who put me through this are still in control. So I don't believe there will be any change."
The narrative contained in the decision document notes that Williams received exemplary evaluations during his time with the CSP, but also maintains that he was the subject of gay rumors. Nonetheless, he was the guest of honor at a going-away party after he decided to leave the patrol in February 2010 in order to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a helicopter pilot.
Williams subsequently attended a flight training school and became a reserve police officer in Brighton. But just a few months later, in April, he sent his boss, Chief James Wolfinbarger, an e-mail and attached letter explaining that he missed the work and camaraderie of the patrol and asked to be reinstated.
Wolfinbarger explained that Williams would have to come back as a trooper, not a captain, and he'd also be made to undergo a polygraph exam and a full background investigation.
A form required by the latter included the question, "Since the age of eighteen, have you ever been involved in the making, viewing, possessing, marketing or distributing of child pornography in any form?" The query prompted Williams to recall an occasion a couple of years earlier when he was viewing pornography on a website and a video popped up featuring someone he suspected was underage. Although he quickly clicked out of the video, he answered "yes" in an effort to be completely honest.
During a pre-interview for the polygraph examination, child porn was a major topic of conversation. Additionally, Williams admitted that during a visit to Thailand, he had paid for a massage that had concluded with a happy ending -- something that was perfectly legal there. Shortly thereafter, the examiner asked if the masseuse had been male or female, and Williams, who had not shared his sexual orientation with his supervisors or co-workers, replied, "Male" -- essentially outing himself against his will.
Page down to continue reading about Brett Williams's story, and to see the decision in his favor.
The polygraph test followed, and Williams is said to have had a significant reaction when the child-porn question was raised. Afterward, Wolfinbarger decided to deny his reinstatement based on what was termed a failed polygraph test -- and Williams's various efforts to get the powers that be to reconsider fell on deaf ears.
Eventually, Williams filed a complaint with the State Personnel Board, and in the hearings related to it, "we presented evidence that there are no openly gay male members of the Colorado State Patrol," says his attorney, Keith Shandalow. "I don't know exactly how many uniformed members of the Colorado State Patrol there are, but we're talking about 700 or 800 people. Now, based on statistics, there have to be dozens of gay male members, and none of them have come out. And the reason is the pervasively anti-gay attitude among the uniformed members of the State Patrol, from the bottom up."
This conclusion gibes with Williams's experience. "There are a couple of gay members I know in the State Patrol who are scared to be found out after what happened to me," he says, adding, "The State Patrol is a para-military organization, and until recently, homosexuality was actually forbidden in the military. The atmosphere has to go from the top down, and if the top isn't willing to change, the road-level folks won't, either."
Shandalow echoes this view. "The fact that the state is apparently going to appeal the award granted to my client because of wrongdoing by the Colorado State Patrol indicates that they really haven't taken responsibility for their actions," he allows. "They could remedy the situation by admitting that what they did was wrong and making amends, and holding those who did wrong accountable. But there's no indication that those individuals who were involved in the situation, and who the administrative law judge indicated were less than truthful at the hearing, are being held accountable."
Even though the judge ruled in his favor, Williams isn't ready to celebrate yet. "I'm happy that the judge was very specific, clearing me of any wrongdoing and pointing a finger at the State Patrol. So I feel vindicated. But the appeal could tie things up for who knows how long, and that means I can't really get on with my life."
That's certainly true of his job situation. He had an extended period of unemployment after his CSP reinstatement was rejected, and while he subsequently worked a short stint at a prison for an hourly wage and is now employed at a security firm, he's stuck in a cubicle rather than being out in the field, as he'd like to be. He's also being treated like a pariah by former state patrol colleagues; he recounts one experience of visiting a small restaurant and having former co-workers refuse to acknowledge his existence.
"Right now, things are pretty miserable," he concedes. "But I hope that this is a starting point -- a building block or a foundation for change as newer people move into command at the State Patrol. Things won't change overnight -- they won't change until they make people believe they're really accepting, and that the command will make the right decisions. But I hope this will get the ball rolling, so down the road, no one will have to go through what I've gone through."
Below, read the State Personnel Board decision, as well as a supplementary pre-trial filing.
More from our News archive: "Luiza Fritz, lesbian soldier, mulls legal action to rejoin military after Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.