Officer Dani Lee Harris, a former LGBT liaison for the Atlanta Police Department, returned to active duty Monday, six months after the agency placed her on unpaid leave and refused to publicly discuss her status.
Harris’ return to work came quietly as the police department provided a brief statement announcing the move to be read at a meeting of its LGBT advisory board. Atlanta police did not publicly release a statement about Harris before her return to duty, continuing its months-long refusal to discuss her leave or her status as the second LGBT liaison in agency history.
“Officer Harris is back in paid status with the APD. Some medical concerns still need to be resolved. As a result, the APD cannot comment any further on a personnel matter,” according to the statement, which was read by Glen Paul Freedman, who is chair of the advisory board.
Harris’ partner, Tasha Davis, attended Monday’s meeting and told board members that Harris was nervous about returning to work, “but she went back with her head held high.”
“We are taking it day by day,” Davis said.
Harris, the department’s LGBT liaison for more than five years, was placed on leave in April, a move the department didn’t announce publicly until questioned by LGBT activists and media. Police officials have said Harris’ three gran mal seizures since December prompted her leave.
Harris has said she was pushed out days after filing a complaint with APD alleging that a civilian employee used abusive language and discriminated against her based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Lt. Neil Klotzer, commander of APD’s Internal Affairs Unit, said Monday that Harris’ complaint is “actively being investigated.”
Since her leave, the department has refused to publicly discuss her status either as LGBT liaison or an officer. Harris also filed a complaint with the Atlanta Citizens Review Board, which rejected it Sept. 9 after ruling that it didn’t fall under their jurisdiction. Her status was raised again Sept. 20 during the first meeting of APD’s LGBT advisory board.
Harris’ return to active duty came about two weeks after friends and supporters hosted a benefit to raise funds for her, Davis and their children. The event at Power Center Christian Church included emotional thanks from Harris and Davis, who also discussed the financial strain her months-long unpaid leave put on the family (video above).
On Monday, Harris said returning to the police department was “bittersweet” but that she was welcomed back to work. Harris is now assigned to the department’s ID unit.
“I felt like it’s bittersweet because I definitely needed to be back at work,” Harris said. “I needed the income coming in – that’s definitely a relief. It is a relief knowing that I am going in every day.”
But Harris, who is still considering legal action against the police department, said unanswered questions remain about her leave. The job she was assigned to Monday after being examined by a police physician last week is work she could have performed before she was pushed out, Harris said.
“The question I ask is why was I taken out in the first place. The legal action is still going to come. My coming back to work raises the same questions my attorney has asked,” she said.
Harris was placed on leave April 16; three weeks later, on May 4, the police department named Officer Patricia Powell as LGBT liaison, making her the third officer in the department’s history to serve in such a position. Officer Brian Sharp started work as LGBT liaison on Sept. 30, marking the first time Atlanta police have had two LGBT liaisons serving at the same time and meeting a pledge by Mayor Kasim Reed and police Chief George Turner to have at least two gay liaisons in the department.
But despite the appointments of Powell and Sharp, Atlanta police have refused to discuss the status of Harris or her role as LGBT liaison. On Tuesday, APD Public Affairs Manager Carlos Campos said Harris “is not working as a GLBT liaison currently.” He did not elaborate.
Harris said colleagues at her new assignment helped make her “feel comfortable” when she returned Monday.
“The lieutenant and the officers – everybody was really cool. They were great. They made me feel comfortable. I went in with a frown on my face feeling like I had been punished. But by midday, I was fine. By the end of the day, I was great. I had a great first day. It was encouraging. I appreciated being there today,” Harris said.
UPDATE: APD Public Affairs Manager Carlos Campos released this statement after our post was published:
“At this time, Officer Harris is not working in a GLBT liaison capacity. Officers Powell and Sharp remain in those roles. The department isn’t going to elaborate on why Officer Harris isn’t in the role currently. We hope our commitment to the GLBT community is measured by our current actions – which include the appointment of two new liaisons, and a citizen advisory board that is working closely with them. Further, Chief Turner has said repeatedly that Atlanta police officers are subject to an assignment change at any moment, as evidenced by the many positions he’s held throughout his 29-year career with the department. Since taking charge of the department as interim chief in January, he’s implemented many personnel changes he believes are in the department’s best interest, and will continue do so.”
Top photo: Officer Dani Lee Harris and her partner, Tasha Davis, during an Oct. 2 benefit. Bottom photo: Harris as a grand marshal during the 2009 Atlanta Pride Parade.