Nearly six months into a leave without pay from her post as LGBT liaison for the Atlanta Police Department, Officer Dani Lee Harris and her supporters are hosting a benefit Saturday to combat the financial strain from her employment uncertainty.
Harris (photo), 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. Harris says she was pushed out days after filing a complaint with APD’s internal affairs unit alleging that a civilian employee used abusive language and discriminated against her based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Police officials have said Harris’ three gran mal seizures since December prompted her leave.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Harris says. “All I did was serve the community I love for five years and got punished for it.”
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.
“We need to have some kind of information as to the situation with Dani. We don’t have any information about what’s going on there,” Betty Couvertier, a longtime LGBT activist and one of the nine advisory board members, said during the meeting.
The advisory board meeting came as police officials continued to repeat their commitment to make good on a pledge from Mayor Kasim Reed to have at least two LGBT liaisons in the police department. But while the agency says it is close to appointing a second liaison to work with Officer Patricia Powell, it won’t say if Harris will ever return to that role.
“We have somebody in mind and hope it’s someone that will compliment Officer Powell. She can certainly use the help and that person will be a great asset. It’s a question of when, not if,” Carlos Campos, APD’s public affairs manager, said after the advisory board meeting.
When pressed about the status of Harris, Campos repeated a refrain used by other police officials.
“Her situation is a personnel matter that I can’t go into. Chief [George] Turner has said many times that no officer is guaranteed a permanent position in the department and is subject to transfer at any time,” Campos said.
Harris says she is considering suing the department and eventually making public a recording of the alleged discriminatory tirade she faced from the civilian employee. But for now, her attorney is attempting to work with the police department to return Harris to her post.
“My attorney is trying to get them to do the right thing. They are making it worse by not responding and continuing their retaliation,” Harris says.
But Harris adds that her leave without pay could end Oct. 14 – the point at which she would be seizure-free for six months and could be examined by physicians to see if she meets the department’s fit-for-duty standards.
“I am hopeful for that. But I am not looking forward to it. It will not stop here. I have not been on the street in five years and they are trying to make my life as miserable as they can. I really don’t know. It is still up in the air,” Harris says.
On Saturday, Harris is asking supporters to join her for a benefit at the Power Center to raise much-needed funds since she’s been out of work since April. From the invitation:
Due to Officer Darlene a.k.a. Dani Lee Harris standing up for what was right, she was sent home without pay. Officer Harris and her family has suffered tremendously financially & emotionally behind a series of events that followed. She has stood up for the LGBT community for the past five years. Now it’s time for us to stand up of her.
The benefit show has a great performance line up and is open to the public. And monetary amount will be greatly appreciated. We thank you in advance for your help and support.