Amanda Gailey provided research assistance for this article. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yet another LPD officer held in high public regard is on his way out of the force, according to sources who spoke to Seeing Red Nebraska.
This time the target is not a woman alleging sexual crimes, but a male ally, Officer Luke Bonkiewicz, whom many readers may recognize from his work at the Malone Center. According to sources, Bonkiewicz, who has been a vocal ally in fighting the culture of misogyny and violence in LPD, was asked to surrender his badge and firearm and to go home and await an official letter from Internal Affairs, the agency that seems designed to find reasons to keep rapists on the force and to contrive reasons to fire their accusers.
Late last year, Seeing Red reported on allegations of retaliation against officers who spoke out on a range of issues that plague police departments: sexual harassment and assault, racism, and use of excessive force. Since then, two of those officers, Erin Spilker and Angela Sands, have been publicly fired (Sands) or put on leave (Spilkers). During this same time, an officer accused of rape, Joshua Atkinson, remained employed with LPD until his retirement. Another officer credibly accused of sexual assault remains on the force. Police chief Teresa Ewins is clearly not “picking out bad apples to save the barrel,” instead perpetuating the larger problem of systemic rot: officers who address bias, corruption, or harmful practices in their department are fired or placed on leave on the flimsy ground of “lying” or “insubordination.” Now, another politically-motivated firing seems to have occurred.
Bonkiewicz has worked in data analysis for the department, including assessment of racial disparities in traffic stops and police interactions in Lincoln public schools. He was honored in 2018 as the National Institute of Justice’s LEADS Scholar for his research, and just earlier this month, he published a research paper about police sexual violence, coauthored with Angela Sands. His name still appears on the article at that link, though it was removed from the print version in what was described to us as a failed attempt to shield him from retribution at LPD. In fact, a source reports that Bonkiewicz’s laptop was seized prior to the article’s publication in an attempt to preempt it.
Bonkiewicz’s work is the kind that makes people believe in “good cops” which, along with his public-facing position, makes him one of the more well-known and respected officers in Lincoln. Despite this strong record, Bonkiewicz was sent home this week “for lying,” according to sources. What he supposedly lied about is unclear, but it seems to just be the same convenient cover used to fire any officer who tries to make change. (We will soon be publishing more about how LPD uses charges of lying.)
On March 20, 2021, Luke Bonkiewicz sent an email to Jennifer Brinkman, chief of staff to Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird. (Click here for the full text of the email.) In it, he asked her to share a message with the mayor’s search committee for the next police chief. This message described “a dark undercurrent of the Lincoln Police Department, a pervasive subculture that marginalizes female sworn officers,” with the request that the next chief of police acknowledge this problem and work to remedy it. He gave a list of egregious crimes committed by Lincoln police offers, including male officers sexually assaulting and raping both female officers and civilians, as well as sharing body-cam footage and photos of nude sexual assault victims.
Bonkiewicz went on to explain that this culture made it nearly impossible for female officers to report their assaults, and also detailed how those who did report were retaliated against. He remained hopeful – “LPD is filled with both exceptional male and female officers. The number of male officers who prey upon female officers is small, but they are repeat offenders” – but acknowledged that this was a decades-long problem that would require “leadership of the highest caliber” to fix.
Whether an officer is a victim of police sexual violence, is researching and reporting on it, or both, LPD has made clear that misogyny will reign, even under new female leadership. Ewins is only part of the problem; the police chief ultimately reports to the mayor, who was clearly warned about LPD’s problems nearly a year ago and has done nothing as scandals continue to arise in LPD. After Sarah Williams, another former officer, filed a lawsuit against the city for harassment and discrimination in December of 2021, Mayor Gaylor Baird stated that her administration “is committed to responding to allegations of any wrongdoing, while ensuring that all employees are held accountable for their job performance.” This is the vague language of politicians, but the emphasis on job performance – rather than, say, job safety – is telling. “Job performance issues” like “lying” are reasonable grounds for Ewins to fire or put on leave Sands, Spilker, Bonkewicz, or any other officer who dares speak out, while actual unsafe working conditions – like being raped by colleagues – are ignored.
LPD is firing the wrong cops and our mayor has not stopped it. In fact– as the leader of our city, who knew about extreme corruption in LPD nearly a year ago (and likely long before that), who selected Ewins as chief of police, and who is reported to by the chief–Gaylor Baird has helped to sustain the current conditions of LPD and it’s time for some accountability. We are asking the mayor to address the public and answer the following: Do you agree with the grounds on which these officers were fired? Do you approve of how LPD handles “internal investigations” of sexual assault? Is the overall state of Lincoln’s police reflective of your actions as mayor and your hopes for our city? If not, what will you do?