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Black, Seattle-based ATF agent who won lawsuit naming Nazi-tattooed colleague now alleges smear campaign, claims retaliation

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 28, 2020

By Mike Carter Seattle Times Seattle Times

An African American senior supervisory agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who last year was paid $450,000 to settle a race-based discrimination lawsuit involving a fellow agent with a Nazi-themed tattoo has sued the agency again, alleging a smear campaign and retaliation that went unanswered by her bosses.

Cheryl Bishop, a former ATF K-9 handler and now a senior supervisory special agent based in Seattle, claims in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court that three days after a report of the government’s settlement appeared in The Seattle Times on Nov. 18, 2019, the supervisor at the heart of the lawsuit – Bradford Devlin, the resident agent in charge of the ATF’s Eugene, Oregon, office – sent an email to 150 people in the agency defending and reiterating many of the racist tropes and allegations against Bishop that got him in trouble in the first place.

The lawsuit alleges the agency has repeatedly failed to discipline Devlin or rein in his racist behavior, setting up a situation where Devlin felt he could lash out at Bishop again after the first lawsuit had settled. The lawsuit names ATF as an agency, the Department of Justice and Attorney General William Barr as defendants.

“The Government’s repeated failure to discipline its employees for violating the law, unsurprisingly, leaves them to feeling free to do so again and again,” said Bishop’s Seattle lawyer, Jesse Wing. “The Agency’s behavior, shrugging off continued defiant acts of race harassment and retaliation committed by a known racist supervisor in its ranks, reflects the need for fundamental change at ATF.”

April Langwell, director of ATF’s public affairs division in Washington, D.C., said she could not comment on pending litigation.

Devlin, contacted by telephone Thursday, said he was unaware another lawsuit had been filed. He did not otherwise comment. In the 2019 email, he complained bitterly that he had not been allowed to comment to the media in the previous case because of bureau restrictions on employees.

Langwell said Devlin retired from the agency at the end of 2019, about five weeks after the settlement was finalized.

Bishop’s first lawsuit was filed in 2018, two years after she initially complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about Devlin’s behavior while he was her supervisor from 2001 to 2011. She claimed that after complaining, the agency scuttled her prestigious appointment to work at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.

The lawsuit settled in November 2019 after a federal judge swept aside the government’s arguments to dismiss the case and ordered it to trial. Bishop was given $450,000 in cash and a meeting with the agency’s leaders, who would present her with a ring celebrating an earlier accomplishment as the first woman on ATF’s Special Response Team.

Key to Bishop’s claim was Devlin’s decision to not remove a Nazi-themed tattoo he received while working undercover to infiltrate an Aryan biker gang in Ohio in the early 2000s. Devlin has described the tattoo as a “German Eagle SS Lightning Bolt” tattoo on his shoulder, depicting twin stylized “SS” insignia that reference Adolf Hitler’s brutal “Schutzstaffel” secret police, who were responsible for murdering millions of Jews and ethnic minorities during World War II.

Bishop claimed Devlin once “eyed her with a grin” while showing the tattoo to other agents at a retirement function.

“I have heard several times … that ATF management was ‘appalled’ that I had a racist tattoo. I am sorry that you were appalled,” Devlin wrote. “I am not a racist, never have been and never will be.”

Bishop also complained about a series of emails mocking Black people and then-President Barack Obama, sent on ATF email, and statements made to other agents and federal prosecutors that Bishop was a “trainwreck” and incompetent.

When Bishop confronted Devlin about these and other purportedly offensive emails, she claims he told her to “get the hell out of my office,” and came around the desk with his fists balled. In other instances, she claimed Devlin had disparaged her as being “bossy,” “worthless,” “contemptuous” and a “not-aggressive worker” – all comments the lawsuit alleged “stereotype black women.”

Devlin was investigated and lost a pending promotion to ATF’s internal affairs division, but was then reassigned as the resident agent in charge of the Eugene office, a post where he may have had instances of supervising Bishop again.

Devlin has previously claimed he was being discriminated against “based upon my race” as a white male because he expressed his opinion about Bishop’s qualifications.

Devlin’s email, sent days after the settlement, reiterated many of his disparaging beliefs about Bishop, and he complained that he never had a chance to address the allegations because the lawsuit settled. He included with the letter a copy of a 125-page sworn deposition given in the earlier case.

Bishop’s lawsuit alleges the email “repeated the defamatory and race-based criticisms” that led her to claim a hostile work environment to begin with.

In the letter, Devlin accused Bishop of unethical and unprofessional conduct for “going to the media” and accused her and her attorneys of providing a photo of Devlin’s tattoo to The Seattle Times. Devlin wrote that he had been “used as a means to her end.”

“Cheryl and her attorney played it well,” he wrote. “Their strategy was effective and they won $450K of taxpayer dollars.”

The last line: “Hope that ring turns out well,” Devlin wrote.

Wing wrote that Devlin’s identity and other personal information, including the photograph of the tattoo, were contained in the public court record.

The email was sent to more than 150 people within the ATF, including ranking officials at headquarters. According to court documents, Devlin was referred for investigation of possible workplace harassment. Officials determined that counseling he received the day he sent the email was sufficient punishment. He retired a few weeks later.

In his email, Devlin said he has never refused to remove the offensive tattoo, and at one point shortly after coming out from working undercover more than 15 years ago, asked if the bureau would pay for its removal, and was told no. A decade later, after Bishop’s EEOC complaint, he asked again but “for some reason, I never followed up.”

“I have never declined to have the tattoo removed,” he wrote.

In her 2018 lawsuit, Bishop claimed she and Devlin had been in conflict since an incident in 2009 when Bishop confronted Devlin, then her supervisor, after he sent racially offensive emails using ATF email to several agents in the Gang Group, including Bishop.

“As the only woman of color in our group, these emails publically humiliated me,” she wrote in a sworn declaration.

One email, included with the lawsuit filings, shows a Black woman talking through a telephone handset to a Black man behind a glass partition in prison, with a Santa Claus and reindeer superimposed. It states, “Merry Christmas from the Johnsons.”

Devlin, in his letter, said he sent the cartoons because he thought they were “humorous” and not intended to offend.

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