A popular Dunwoody Police Department lieutenant has resigned amid an internal investigation, according to the police chief, and a “whistleblower” legal action with allegations involving him and other officers may be coming.

Lt. Fidel Espinoza, the former head of DPD’s Administrative Services division, resigned effective May 4, according to Police Chief Billy Grogan.

“Lt. Espinoza has resigned from our department and there is an internal matter that we are investigating, but I’m not at liberty to really talk about it at this point in time,” said Grogan in a phone interview. Asked who and what is being investigated, Grogan would only say, “It’s just allegations that we’re currently investigating.”

Espinoza did not immediately return a phone call and a text message sent to a number listed as his and confirmed by a neighbor. Social media accounts he previously used in his DPD role appear to have been deleted or deactivated. Asked whether Espinoza joined another police force, Grogan said, “I don’t know where he went.”

A source who did not identify themselves said in a message to the Reporter that “several whistleblowers have initiated legal action against the department” alleging misconduct by Espinoza and at least one other officer. The source said the whistleblowers are being represented by Woodstock attorney Laura Austin.

Austin confirmed that she is representing someone in such a case and that it involves Espinoza, but she declined to talk about the details of the claim or what specific legal action she is performing. “It’s still in the works,” she said in a phone interview.

However, in an email, she complained that DPD allowed Espinoza to resign “without a full investigation” and without “immediate suspension.” And she suggested that the legal action would involve other officers or concerns.

“There are multiple issues,” she said, and referred to a 2017 case where, according to media reports, a former DPD officer living in Braselton was charged by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation with sexual exploitation of children. Nothing about that case as it was described in media reports involved Espinoza, any other DPD officers, or anyone else.

A popular officer

Former Dunwoody Police Lt. Fidel Espinoza.

Espinoza is an Army veteran and former DeKalb County Police officer who was a founding member of the DPD force in 2009, joining as a field training officer. He was popular with city officials and some members of the public, who knew him for his one-time role as DPD’s media spokesperson. In 2010, the DeKalb Bar Association named him “Officer the Year” for creating a “Christmas for Kids” gift program and dinner.

Espinoza rose rapidly through the ranks, with Grogan promoting him to one of four of DPD’s lieutenant positions in 2015. As head of the Administrative Services division, he oversaw officers and employees in several departments, including records, community outreach, media relations and property and evidence. An updated organizational chart posted on the DPD website on May 11 showed that lieutenant position as vacant.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.