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Former Colorado Police Chief Files Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against City of Leadville

— May 16, 2024

Hal Edwards, the former police chief of Leadville, claims that the city administrator forced him out of his position even after a third-party investigator cleared him of any significant wrongdoing.

The former police chief of a small town in Colorado has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Leadville officials, claiming that he lost his position to anti-Black prejudice.

According to NBC News, the lawsuit was filed earlier this week on behalf of Hal Edwards.

The complaint names plaintiffs including the city of Leadville—located about 75 miles southwest of Denver—and claims that the town’s administrator, Laurie Simonson, consistently and repeatedly undermined Edwards’ leadership.

“If you talk to any African-American person who is in a position of authority over a white work group, our integrity is questioned, our competence is questioned, and we are often undermined by subordinates,” Edwards told NBC News in an interview.

Edwards indicated that, although he was never referred to by racial epithets, he believes that the circumstantial evidence presented in the case will speak for itself.

“In this particular case, that is evidenced by the way that Administrator Simonson undermined my authority,” he said. “It may not be blatant, in-your-face, calling-me-the-N-word-type racism, but it is, in fact, racism.”

A police officer wearing a body camera. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Ryan Johnson. (CCA-BY-2.0).

The Denver Post reports that Edwards began serving as Leadville’s police chief in August of 2021. However, within a matter of months, multiple officers lodged complaints about his leadership style—saying that he was rude, and that he did not listen to his employees.

Just over a year later, a group of police department employees—four white, and two Latino—brought a “collective complaint” against Edwards to Simonson.

Simonson, in turn, hired a third-party investigator to look into the allegations against Edwards and the police department.

Although the investigator determined that most of the complaints were either baseless or exaggerated, some were substantiated—including claims that Edwards frequently used profanity, and that he appointed a field training officer who had not yet been fully trained.

“Overall, the objective evidence and witness accounts of Edwards’ conduct do not substantiate claims that Edwards engaged in unprofessional behavior, communication, discrimination or retaliation,” the investigator wrote, adding that there was a possibility the officers’ complaints could be motivated by either racial animus or political opposition—Edwards had, for instance, run for Lake County sheriff several times, and two of the dissenting officers had publicly cast support behind another candidate.

“While the evidence does not plainly reveal that the complaint is racially motivated, the optics of a mostly white group of officers […] complaining about their Black superior is suspect,” the report states.

Despite the report largely absolving Edwards of any wrongdoing, Simonson nevertheless chose to place him on leave, giving him the choice of either resigning or returning to work under close supervision. When Edwards rejected Simonson’s demands, he was told that Simonson “considered him to have ‘resigned.’”

Edwards, who has since been appointed as a Lake County Democratic Party commissioner, is seeking unspecified damages for economic losses and emotional distress.


A Black police chief in Colorado files a racial discrimination lawsuit after his firing

Leadville’s first Black police chief says city administrator, racist officers forced him from job

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