Veteran law enforcement officer Alexis Blaylock was sworn-in as the Chief of Willits Police Department on August 26, 2020. Just over one month later on October 8, Blaylock resigned. In a letter addressed to Willits’s City Council, the Castillo Harper law firm claims Blaylock, their client, faced a hostile work environment, harassment, sexism, and racism. According to the letter, Blaylock is willing to release the claims against the city for a payment of $500,000 and a commitment by the city to provide workplace discrimination and retaliation training to make the city and police department “more tolerant, effective, and honest.”
The letter claims Blaylock was “met with immediate hostility from subordinates openly resistant to a black female Chief and opposed to accountability.”
The letter specifically names Lieutenant Derek Hendry as one of those subordinates who openly resisted Blaylock. He told her “he had a problem with a female chief and that he and other officers were not accustomed to reporting to a woman.” Lieutenant Hendry is reported to have told Blaylock it is “odd” to work for a woman in the presence of City of Willits’s Human Resources Director Karen Stevenson. The letter also states that Lieutenant Hendry told an unnamed city employee that Chief Blaylock’s race was “instrumental in his opposition to her.”
The letter claims Blaylock faced “baseless complaints” to her attempts to “implement basic, but essential procedures” such as cataloging the police department’s keys. Blaylock found keys to secure areas “unsecured, unaccounted for, not cataloged, and stored randomly in different places.” Blaylock even found one of the department’s evidence room’s keys was missing. After learning an employee on medical had the other evidence room key, for all intents and purposes there was no key to the evidence room.
Blaylock also found deficiencies in the evidence room’s security. She found there were no cameras or alarms for the entrance to the evidence room. There is a camera inside of the evidence room, but “that would be of little value if a breach is not recognized to prompt a review of the footage.” This concerned Blaylock because the unsecured evidence room “compromises evidence and jeopardizes court cases.”
Blaylock took steps to catalog the department’s keys and establish a key accountability system, but was told by Willits City Manager Stephanie Garrabrant-Sierra that her priorities were “misplaced” and criticized her for “micro-managing.”
The letter claims one of the grievances levied by Blaylock’s Willits co-workers was she was often “unreachable or unavailable.” Blaylock would inquire as to “who needed to reach her and when” and would receive “vague and contradictory responses.” At one point, Blaylock was told by Lieutenant Hendery that Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall and Little Lake Fire Chief Chris Wilkes were looking for her and “could not find her.” Blaylock proceeded to follow up with both and was told they had not been looking for her and knew how to get in touch with her if necessary.
Another complaint made about Blaylock arose from a Willits Police Department officer’s worker’s compensation claim that was said to have resulted from a use of force incident. The letter says on October 5, 2020 Blaylock was presented a worker’s compensation claim by an officer who was said to have been injured during a use of force circumstance on September 9. Blaylock is said to have checked the police report and found no use of force was documented. Concerned by the inconsistency, Blaylock asked the employee to file a supplemental report that described the use of force. Based on this experience, Blaylock proceeded to address all of WPD’s officers regarding use of force incidents and resulting injuries always being reported in a timely manner. These directives resulted in the City Manager telling Blaylock her insistence the officer write a supplemental report regarding the use of force related to his injury “somehow violated the employee’s rights.” The City Manager then “admonished Chief Blaylock for directing the Lieutenant and Sergeant to follow the law and policy and accused Chief Blaylock of threatening her subordinates.”
The City Manager directed Blaylock on or about October 6, 2020, to stay home for the rest of the week and return with “a fresh perspective.” After the break, Blaylock was told she would be every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday with the City Manager, and Lieutenant Hendry to assess how “Blaylock was doing.” The letter stated that “it was clearly implied that Hendry, Chief Blaylock’s white male subordinate, would be instrumental in evaluating Chief Blaylock’s performance.”
The letter claims that Blaylock was subjected to “disparate treatment based on her race and gender” which were “key factors in the City’s adverse employment actions and harassing conduct.” Blaylock’s hiring was a result of “mere tokenism,” the letter asserts, and the City retaliated and criticized her any time she attempted to make “necessary and constructive changes in the department.”
The letter demands compensation of $500,000 for lost wages, past, and present, and the “pain, suffering emotional distress, and reputational harm she has suffered.” On top of the monetary damages, Blaylock is demanding City of Willits leadership complete a course on “discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace” and be “trained on their responsibilities to report and investigation possible workplace misconduct.” Blaylock is also demanding that members of the Willits Police Department that have not completed a “legislatively mandated course on racial profiling” be required to do so.
We reached out to Willits Police Department for comment regarding the claims described in the article with no response. It is important to note that these claims have not been proved in a court of law.