Riverton Police Department Denies Claims By Native Officer Of Racist Treatment

In a response filed last week to a lawsuit brought by its first enrolled Northern Arapaho officer, the Riverton Police Department denies his claims of hostile, racist treatment.

Clair McFarland

May 16, 20243 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)

RIVERTON — A Wyoming police department accused of racial discrimination by a former Native American detective has denied claims of wrongdoing and said the detective’s own actions contributed to the loss of his job.

Billy Whiteplume, a 43-year-old father of five and Riverton Police Department’s first enrolled Northern Arapaho employee, sued the department in April by accusing it of allowing racial discrimination, retaliation and a hostile work environment.  

The Riverton Police Department (RPD) filed an answer Friday, denying Whiteplume’s claims of wrongdoing, but acknowledging that Whiteplume had a falling-out with a fellow officer who allegedly made a joke about tribal drumming practices while in Whiteplume’s office.

Whiteplume had claimed that RPD didn’t do enough to help American Indian transients who frequent the city’s streets, often drunk or intoxicated; and that when he tried to start up an intergovernmental program helping the transients get housing and other services, his superiors chastised him for spending too much time on those efforts.

He alleges his work environment turned hostile and retaliatory, prompting him to quit.

RPD consistently denies those claims in its response.

“Defendants deny the allegations as written,” repeats the filing in its responses to many of Whiteplume’s claims.

The Alleged Drum Episode  

Whiteplume had alleged that RPD School Resource Officer Scott Christoffersen came into Whiteplume’s office Dec. 15, 2022, picked up a pen and drummed on a peanut can.

Whiteplume took issue, noting in his lawsuit complaint that he and his family are involved in traditional Native American ceremonies, of which the drum is a treasured part.

RPD’s filing denies the allegation about Christoffersen’s drumming “as written,” and denies that Christoffersen was drumming at all.

But RPD acknowledges as true that Christoffersen asked, “Is this why you have this?” and Whiteplume answered with another question: “Are you for real?”

When Whiteplume complained to higher-ups, Whiteplume’s own supervisor RPD Detective Sgt. Eric Smits asked Whiteplume to talk to Christoffersen about the incident, RPD’s filing acknowledges.

But the filing denies that the department “or any of its employees engaged in discriminatory conduct.”

It calls many of Whiteplume’s claims legal conclusions, rather than alleged facts, and it claims many of the incidents Whiteplume claims are beyond the department’s scope of knowledge.

'Waived' His Right

Lastly, RPD’s filing says Whiteplume’s own conduct negates his right to complain about any alleged wrongdoing by the department.

“(Whiteplume) by his conduct, has waived the right to assert any of the claims or causes of action asserted (in his complaint),” says the filing, adding claims that Whiteplume didn’t work with administration enough to fix his issues, that no one at the department caused Whiteplume’s problems.

The case is ongoing and is set for a June 12 scheduling conference in Cheyenne’s U.S. District Court for Wyoming.

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

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter