IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

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

He claims leaders and officers in the mountain town of Leadville worked to force him from his job after an independent investigator cleared him of wrongdoing.

DENVER — The Black former police chief of a small Colorado town says he was the victim of racial discrimination and fired after officers and city leaders worked to force him out even though he was cleared of wrongdoing by an independent investigator, according to a federal lawsuit.

Hal Edwards, who sued the city of Leadville, 75 miles southwest of Denver, in U.S. District Court in Denver on April 30, says in the lawsuit that City Administrator Laurie Simonson undermined his decision-making and leadership during his 18 months in the job because he is Black.

“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 said in an interview.

former Denver Police Chief
Former Denver Police Chief Hal Edwards.Courtesy Lake County Colorado

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

Edwards was appointed chief of police in Leadville, which has a population of 2,600 people, 12 of whom are Black, in August 2021 by the mayor at the time, Greg Labbe. Edwards was the only Black employee in the nine-person police department.

Simonson, Labbe and Mayor Dana Greene could not be reached for comment.

Edwards also said in the lawsuit that he wasn’t given the necessary tools to succeed, such as funding to hire an assistant chief, and that previous white department chiefs weren’t subjected to the same treatment he had received from city leaders.

Edwards said he filed a complaint with the police department on Nov. 23, 2022, claiming to have been a victim of discrimination because he was treated unfairly and Simonson undermined his disciplinary efforts.

He claims in the federal lawsuit that Simonson rejected his complaint without investigating it.

Multiple officers submitted a written grievance to Simonson alleging that Edwards was a “toxic” leader who belittled employees and ignored his duties as chief. It did not cite specific duties it alleged he ignored.

An independent investigation by Employment Matter LLC, a Denver-based company that conducts workplace investigations, largely exonerated Edwards after it looked into the officers' complaints.

“Officers allege unsubstantiated grievances against Edwards that seem mischaracterized as serious offenses,” investigators wrote in the report. They added that officers appeared to nitpick almost every aspect of Edwards’ management, hoping some minor transgression would violate some policy.

Investigators did find that Edwards used profanity in the workplace.

“The most serious charges against Edwards include gender, military, and marital discrimination and retaliation. These allegations also lack substance,” the report read.

The officers who filed the grievance were unsatisfied with the findings and threatened to strike, Edwards said in his lawsuit.

Simonson prohibited Edwards from publicly discussing the report and placed him on paid administrative leave after he talked about it at a community meeting in November 2022, the lawsuit says.

Weeks after Edwards was placed on leave, Simonson gave him the option to return to work under conditions that would have undercut his leadership and guaranteed his failure, such as being placed on a performance improvement plan without specific requirements, the lawsuit says.

City leaders declined a proposal by Edwards’ lawyers to mediate the terms of his return, Edwards said, and he was fired on Feb. 3, 2023.

Edwards, who moved to Leadville 14 years ago after having worked for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said he was terminated without ever having received a work evaluation.

Edwards, who was appointed last month as a Lake County Democratic commissioner to help govern the county, seeks unspecified damages.