Riverton’s First Northern Arapaho Police Officer Claims Racist, Hostile Treatment

The first Northern Arapaho officer hired by the Riverton Police Department has quit, and filed a lawsuit Monday alleging a pattern of racist, hostile and retaliatory treatment by superiors and department officials.

Clair McFarland

April 23, 20247 min read

Former Riverton Police Department Detective Billy Whiteplume has filed a civil lawsuit alleging racial discrimination, retaliation and a hostile workplace.
Former Riverton Police Department Detective Billy Whiteplume has filed a civil lawsuit alleging racial discrimination, retaliation and a hostile workplace. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The first enrolled Northern Arapaho officer hired by the Riverton Police Department is suing the department alleging racial discrimination, retaliation and the perpetuation of a hostile workplace.

Former RPD Detective Billy Whiteplume’s civil complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming asks for a jury trial, judgment in his favor and monetary compensation for damages stemming from his resignation, which his complaint attributes to the department’s handling of work conflicts.

The complaint alleges that Whiteplume witnessed the department engaging in racially discriminatory practices and complained about those Jan. 4, 2022.

“The Department (released) a Native American male, wearing only his underwear, into the snowing/sleeting, freezing weather,” says the complaint.

Whiteplume complained to his supervisor about the incident and as far as Whiteplume knew, his supervisor didn’t address the alleged discrimination, the complaint says.

Whiteplume started a clothing program with his money “to address similar incidents,” the complaint says.

Numerous transient and sometimes homeless people frequent Riverton’s streets and public places. Many of these are Native American. Some have told Cowboy State Daily they have homes and come to Riverton to drink, hang out and avoid their families; whereas some have said they do not have homes.

Reaching Out

In the late winter or spring of 2022, then-RPD Chief Eric Murphy (who has since resigned) reportedly approached Whiteplume and asked Whiteplume to reach out to the executive branch of the Northern Arapaho Tribe to coordinate a meeting between the tribal government, Riverton’s mayor and city administrator, and Murphy.

Whiteplume contacted the tribal government, the Northern Arapaho Business Council, which he says did spark a dialogue between the governing entities.

Whiteplume’s supervisor “verbally reprimanded” the detective for these efforts, and Whiteplume objected to the reprimand, the complaint alleges.

That summer, Whiteplume reportedly told RPD that a dangerous person had escaped from the Wyoming Correctional Facility — presumably the local honor farm — and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs had told Whiteplume that the escapee was fleeing.

The supervisor reprimanded the detective again, saying he was inciting panic, the complaint alleges, adding that the detective once again objected to the reprimand.

In autumn 2022, Whiteplume noticed a large group of homeless or transient Native American people outside in the freezing weather and snow. He started volunteering to address the problem, including by working to get these people into living facilities so they wouldn’t freeze to death as others have in Riverton, the complaint says.

On Nov. 7, 2022, RPD sent Whiteplume to investigate the case of a Native man who’d frozen to death.

‘Outreach Role’

Whiteplume then started working with several Wind River Indian Reservation-based programs to help the transient or homeless Native Americans, says the document.

His complaint says he viewed his work as part of his RPD outreach role.

On Nov. 18, 2022, Whiteplume’s supervisor reportedly reprimanded Whiteplume for helping transient people all day and neglecting his duties. The lawsuit says the supervisor told Whiteplume there were complaints about him spending too much time on the “homeless issue,” but he didn’t produce specific complaints.

The supervisor reportedly told Whiteplume to stop working with transients or homeless people.

Once again, Whiteplume objected to being reprimanded, the complaint says.

On Nov. 21, 2022, an RPD captain alleged Whiteplume was helping transients on department time rather than his own time in a meeting which Whiteplume’s complaint characterizes as hostile and demeaning.

Around that time, the captain and supervisor continued to reprimand Whiteplume, which he alleges they did without legitimate reasons.

Whiteplume believed the department wasn’t doing enough to help Native transients, and he reportedly viewed the department’s chastising of him as discriminatory and retaliatory.

The Drumming Incident

In late 2022, an RPD officer walked into Whiteplume’s office, picked up a pen on his desk and started drumming on a peanut can with it in a motion matching the drumming of Native American customs in which Whiteplume also participates, the complaint says.

“Is this why you have this?” asked the officer.

Whiteplume viewed the action as offensive and insulting to his faith and culture.

“Are you for real?” asked Whiteplume, reportedly telling the officer twice to leave his office.

The complaint says Whiteplume reported the incident to his supervisor, but the latter didn’t act on his report.

Some days later, Whiteplume told his supervisor he wanted no contact with the officer. He then met with both his supervisor and the officer’s supervisor to report the drumming incident, the document says, adding that Whiteplume asked the officer’s supervisor to keep the officer away from him.

Later, Whiteplume’s own supervisor asked Whiteplume to “smooth things over” with the officer, a request the complaint characterizes as unfitting since the officer allegedly sparked the conflict with his drumming and his comment.

Whiteplume met with the human resources director about the drumming incident. A week passed, and the department took no action against the officer, reportedly.

Whiteplume viewed the department’s conduct as intolerable and subjecting him to a discriminatory and hostile work environment. He gave his two weeks’ notice.

The HR director urged Whiteplume to speak with the officer about the conflict, and said HR would take further action if this sort of action happened again, the complaint says.

The filing indicates Whiteplume did not go and talk to the officer about it, saying, “Whiteplume’s responsibilities and duties did not include disciplining or counseling (him).”

Whiteplume told the HR director he didn’t feel safe around the officer; she reportedly told him he could work his last two weeks at home, and he could file a grievance.

But when she left a letter on his desk recounting the drum incident, Whiteplume viewed the letter as “downplaying” the incident and calling it “tapping the drum,” says the complaint.

Whiteplume’s supervisor reportedly told him he wasn’t supposed to work on his cases at night at home, but to close his cases while in the office.

“This directive made Mr. Whiteplume uncomfortable because he would have to be around people who made him uncomfortable,” says the complaint, listing the three other police agents.

The captain called Whiteplume the next day and told him he needed to return to work or he wouldn’t be paid, the complaint says, adding that Whiteplume stayed home anyway because he didn’t feel safe amid the “hostile work environment (that) was increasing in severity.”

The Ask

The complaint alleges three civil violations against RPD: unlawful retaliation in response to protected actions, racial discrimination and harboring a hostile work environment in violation of federal employment law.

Whiteplume is asking for the following:

  • A jury trial.

  • For the court to enter judgment against RPD finding it in violation of federal law.

  • Money damages for back pay, restored benefits, loss of wages, salary, retirement, all loss of income.

  • Compensatory damages for emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, future monetary losses and loss of compensatory damages.

  • Reinstatement or front pay.

  • Attorney fees and costs.

  • Pre-judgment and post-judgment interest.

  • For the court to direct RPD to change its alleged “unlawful employment” practices.

  • To award Whiteplume any other proper relief.

RPD Chief Eric Hurtado did not respond to a message request for comment by publication time Tuesday. The captain said the department likely would not be able to comment on pending litigation and referred Cowboy State Daily to Riverton City Attorney Rick Sollars.

Sollars’ receptionist informed Cowboy State Daily Sollars does not comment to the media.

Lander-based attorney Kate Strike, of Stanbury and Strike, is listed as Whiteplume’s attorney on the complaint.

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter