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|Atlanta Police LGBT advisory board meets, questions raised about second gay liaison|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|September 20, 2010 13:55|
Questions about the controversial Atlanta Eagle raid, the status of former LGBT liaison Dani Lee Harris and the appointment of a new liaison as well as how to rebuild trust between the LGBT community and the Atlanta Police Department were the main focus of today’s first meeting of the Atlanta Police Department’s newly formed GLBT advisory board.
Chief George Turner addressed the board this morning at its meeting at Saint Mark United Methodist Church, saying that a second LGBT liaison will be appointed soon to help Senior Patrol Officer Patricia Powell. But others wanted to know what happened to Dani Lee Harris, who has been on leave since April.
“If we are to establish trust between the community and the APD there has to be dialogue,” said board member Betty Couvertier, a longtime activist who hosts the LGBT radio show “Alternative Perspectives” on WRFG 89.3 FM. “We need to have information about Dani. We have talked to her and she’s not very happy and we need to take that into consideration. She is without pay.”
The promise of a second liaison — a campaign promise Mayor Kasim Reed made when running for office — has been stated for weeks by APD and police officials.
When Reed announced the formation of a new GLBT advisory board on Aug. 31, he also announced that a second LGBT liaison would be announced soon. Chief Turner also told Georgia Voice in an interview in July that there was no guarantee Harris would return to duty as the LGBT liaison.
On Aug. 31, Carlos Campos, public affairs manager for the APD, issued a statement that the mayor and Turner were working “expeditiously to ensure there are two active GLBT liaisons working with the community for the Atlanta Police Department — pledges made by both Mayor Reed and Chief Turner.
“Chief Turner has said many times that officers are subject to assignment changes at any time and that there is no permanent job post within the Atlanta Police Department — no matter the position. Officer Harris remains on leave from the department, and any further comment on her employment status would be inappropriate.”
Today, Harris told the Georgia Voice the police department is “lying” about her inability to come back to work.
“I’m in a situation where they are refusing to let me come back to work,” she said.
First, she said, she was put on medical leave because of gran mal seizures suffered months ago. But she said she has a doctor’s OK to go back to work. The APD has been telling her, she said, that because of the seizures she cannot drive and so now she is currently on administrative leave without pay.
Harris said Major Erika Shields, chief of staff to the Chief of Police, and the Personnel Department were not allowing her to return to work. The Personnel Department falls under the supervision of Major Debra Williams, the Corporate Services Section Commander.
Major Williams is one of the numerous defendants in a federal civil lawsuit against the APD for the controversial Atlanta Eagle raid last year and is being sued because she “had ultimate supervisory authority over the Red Dog Unit.”
The Red Dog Unit, a paramilitary narcotics squad of the APD, is accused in the lawsuit of using rough treatment against the patrons and employees in the bar that night, including anti-gay slurs and forcibly keeping patrons on the floor.
“I’m not eligible for unemployment because [the APD] says I’m on medical leave. I’m not out on medical leave or out because I’ve done something wrong — I’m just out,” Harris said.
Harris also said when she filed a complaint with the Office of Professional Standards against a civilian employee with the department in April she was then put on medical leave. The complaint includes allegations of sexual discrimination and defamatory language, as stated during a review of a recent Atlanta Citizens Review Board meeting.
“They continue to blackball me. If they are serious about being committed to the LGBT community they have to know I’ve been discriminated against. How can they expect the respect and support of the GLBT community and not protect their own in-house?” Harris added.
Harris did say she was glad a second liaison was to be named because Powell needs the support.
“But how serious are you [the APD]? Is this just the politically correct thing to do? Because the support has not been there [in the past],” Harris said.
Harris’ attorney, Cheryl Legare of the Atlanta firm Buckley & Klein, said today she has reached out to the APD for information on the status of Harris’ employment but has not received any answers.
Legare said letters were sent on July 7 and Sept. 3 but the APD has yet to respond to her inquiries.
“We’ve been seeking answers to no avail,” Legare said. “I have not gotten answers to my correspondence. I do strongly think they should put her back to work.”
Legare and Harris declined to comment further on the OPS complaint.
Other members of the LGBT advisory board are: Ebonee Bradford Barnes, board member of Atlanta’s In the Life, organizer for Black Gay Pride, the Human Rights Campaign and business owner; AID Atlanta Executive Director Tracy L. Elliott; Glen Paul Freedman, past board member of Atlanta Pride and executive assistant to Lisa M. Borders, president of the Grady Health Foundation; transgender activist Tracee McDaniel, founder of the Juxtaposed Center for Transformation; Terence McPhaul, executive director of YouthPride; Joshua Noblitt, pastor at St. Mark United Methodist Church; Philip Rafshoon, owner of Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse; and Molly Simmons, Emory Law School graduate and former DeKalb County Police officer.
Freedman was voted chair of the board today and McPhaul was voted vice chair. The next meeting is already set for Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. at the Phillip Rush Center, 1530 DeKalb Ave. NE Suite A, Atlanta, GA 30307.
Check back at www.thegavoice.com for more information about the first Atlanta Police LGBT advisory board meeting.
Top photo: Atlanta Police Chief George Turner addresses members of the police department's GLBT advisory board at its first meeting today. (by Dyana Bagby)
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