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|Police chief: Gays not targeted in recent crime spate|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|July 23, 2010 00:00|
Acting Atlanta Police Chief George Turner understands there is a rift between LGBT residents and his department, and he hopes a town hall meeting organized by the police and openly gay Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan will help mend that fracture.
The meeting was scheduled for July 22, after Georgia Voice press time.
“We’ve not had a specific meeting for the GLBT community and so we felt it appropriate to building a relationship,” Turner said July 19.
“We’re getting the LGBT advisory board back up and want to work on a partnership,” Turner said.
The nine-member board may start meeting as soon as this fall, said Senior Patrol Officer Patricia Powell, the department’s new LGBT liaison.
Turner, who was named Mayor Kasim Reed’s pick for the top police post but still has to be approved by the Atlanta City Council, said he wanted to wait for Reed’s selection before holding a forum with the LGBT community.
And while Wan says the meeting is a result of recent anti-gay incidents, specifically the July 2 armed robbery of Rev. Josh Noblitt in Piedmont Park, Turner is quick to point out there has been no sudden increase in anti-gay crimes in the city.
“I don’t want people to think there’s been a rash of crimes and people are being sought out because of their sexual orientation,” Turner said.
“The couple in the park — they had some context because of words used against them,” he said.
Noblitt said a group of teens asked if he and his friend, Trent Williams, were gay before they were assaulted. Six youths, ages 13 through 19, were arrested shortly after the July 2 attack. The APD has classified the attack as a bias crime and asked the FBI to help in the investigation.
The attack on Noblitt came a month after a June 3 “Screen on the Green” film in Piedmont Park was cut short due to violence. Several attendees said they heard anti-gay slurs after young people began picking fights, although no incident reports were filed with APD.
The two incidents so close together, and two others that have followed, left some community advocates wondering if there is a wave of violence against LGBT people in Midtown.
Turner said more police presence was implemented in the area after the July 2 attack in Piedmont Park and the APD continues to work with Midtown Blue and the Park Conservancy to ensure those who use the park are safe.
There are four surveillance cameras up in Piedmont Park now and four more to go up by July 31, Turner said.
Two other crimes impacting LGBT residents have been reported in the days following the attack on Noblitt and his friend.
On July 9, a transgender prostitute was viciously attacked in Midtown by a john who beat her with a pistol, fired a shot that grazed her thigh and bit off most of her ear because he did not want to pay her. While this was not classified as a hate crime by APD, Powell was informed of the incident after the department was chastised for not informing her of the attack on Noblitt until three days after the incident.
Then, on July 10, a state parole officer, George Walker of Marietta, was found beaten severely in Central Park near the Atlanta Civic Center; his vehicle was found days later in the parking lot of the Atlanta Eagle, a gay bar on Ponce de Leon Avenue. Walker, 31, remains in a medically induced coma at Grady Hospital. Gregory Johnson, 30, confessed to the beating and police say it does not appear to be a random act.
Powell said she thought the Piedmont Park incidents were likely juveniles who were lashing out and happened to encounter some gay people.
“I don’t think that they’re [LGBT people] being targeted. There’s just a rash of juveniles being juveniles attacking some people who just happen to be gay people, but I could be wrong. But that’s what I think,” she said.
Desire to ‘build connection’
The APD currently has a strong lead in the attack on the transgender woman in Midtown, but Turner stressed that because she is a prostitute, this is not considered a bias crime.
“This was not an attack specifically. This was an agreement that went bad. The attack was not because of sexual preference,” he said.
Carlos Campos, APD public affairs manager, said investigators “have identified a possible suspect and continue to pursue leads” in this case.
The state parole officer case is also not a crime that can be considered targeting gay people, Chief Turner said. But he added that it cannot be said the victim was not attacked because of sexual orientation.
“This was not stranger on stranger,” he said.
“I can’t get into details … there was an opportunity where the two people agreed to come together. During our investigation we found they made a connection and agreed upon a meeting — this was not someone preying on someone,” Turner said.
“Anytime there is a crime we are concerned and we want to build confidence in the community — this was not a new attack on those who choose this lifestyle,” he added.
Turner stressed he and Mayor Reed share a strong desire to ensure the safety of all Atlanta residents, including LGBT residents. Reed, who appointed Powell to be the second LGBT liaison on the APD, is speaking with Mayor Gavin Newsome in San Francisco to learn more about that city’s LGBT liaison unit, Turner said.
Turner added he has reached out to the Washington, D.C., police department, which has an eight-member Gay & Lesbian Unit.
“Our desire is to build a connection. We are looking to improve how we can move forward,” he said.
Other LGBT liaison still on leave
While Powell is named as the second LGBT liaison, the first liaison, Officer Dani Lee Harris, has not been at work since April when she was put on medical leave due to gran mal seizures.
Harris said this week she was put on administrative leave on July 15 — which is different than medical leave — pending an outcome of a physical by the city doctor to see if she is “fit for duty.” If found fit for duty, she can return to work on light duty, but likely not able to drive.
“I meet with the doctor on Monday. I have been being paid for administrative leave. I have been paid for other time off by using city borrowed time,” Harris said.
Harris is not sure she will return as an LGBT liaison. Turner also indicated Harris may not return as the liaison.
“There is no guarantee she will go back to that assignment, but there will be a second liaison,” he said.
Harris declined to speak about the complaint she filed with the Office of Professional Standards against a civilian police employee other than to say it continues to be investigated.
When and should Harris return as an LGBT liaison, Powell said their duties would likely be shared by discussing them rather than one person acting as supervisor.
While Powell does not currently teach LGBT diversity training to police recruits and officers, she said she will start soon. She also wants to develop a new LGBT curriculum to be taught to all new recruits and officers.
Turner, who has been with the APD for 29 years, said he took a diversity class that included LGBT issues when he was in the academy and has taken “several mandatory trainings” since then.
“At least three different courses,” he said about instructions on LGBT issues and police. “I can’t remember what specifically what they were about, but it’s all about treating people like family, like you want to be treated. That’s the common thread of my life.”
Atlanta Eagle raid internal investigation nearing close?
It’s been 10 months since the Atlanta police raid on the Atlanta Eagle, in which more than 60 patrons were searched and held for more than an hour and eight employees were arrested for business license violations. Seven of the employees were acquitted or had their charges dismissed; one employee did not report to court and had a bench warrant issued for his arrest.
Following citizen complaints, the APD launched an internal investigation into the raid. Turner said the reason the investigation is taking so long is because of the high number of complaints and the large number of witnesses.
“If there are officers we find acted inappropriately, I will discipline accordingly,” he said.
“It’s our desire to move this process quicker and I know they are aggravated, but we are close to completing it,” he added.
Turner said he hopes the town hall meeting opens communication between the APD and gay residents to build bridges and rebuild trust.
“Everything starts and ends with communication,” he said.“You have my word I will work closely on issues that will arise.”
Wan: Time to question APD
For City Council member Alex Wan, who represents District 6 including Midtown and Piedmont Park, the relationship between the APD and LGBT residents is seriously bruised, due in large part to the botched raid on the Eagle.
Wan said the attack on Rev. Noblitt, and other public safety issues facing the LGBT community, inspired him to take an extra step to get everyone to come together in a town hall setting.
“In light of the announcements of Chief Turner and Officer Powell to be the liaison, this is a great chance to have a community-wide meeting and ask questions of the sources,” Wan said.
Turner attending the town hall shows he is serious about having a positive relationship with LGBT Atlantans, Wan added.
“On one hand I feel with him as interim chief, especially in District 6, we’ve had one of the most improved crime rates. On the other hand there are some concerns and questions that haven’t been resolved — I’ve not seen anything conclusive about the Eagle raid,” Wan said.
Wan said it is important all city residents understand they play a role in public safety and there needs to be a partnership between the police and citizens. People need to reduce their risks of being victims, he said, including not being out past dark where it may be unsafe.
“We need to recognize a lot of work needs to be done on both sides,” he said.
“It’s time now, let’s do it.”
Top photo: Acting Atlanta Police Chief George Turner says despite recent crimes against LGBT people in Midtown, he doesn’t want residents to think ‘people are being sought out because of their sexual orientation.’ (by Laura Douglas-Brown)
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