It’s a guessing game that some LGBT people at a Midtown rally last week started playing: Where in the world is the Atlanta Police Department’s gay liaison?
With hundreds of gay and gay-friendly people crowding a Midtown intersection on Thursday as part of a counter-demonstration to a handful of anti-gay activists, the scene turned chaotic. Scores of police officers were on hand with one notable exception: The Atlanta Police Department’s LGBT liaison of more than four years, Officer Dani Lee Harris (top photo).
That led veteran LGBT activist and radio host Betty Couvertier to question a trio of senior commanders from the police department, including Major Khirus Williams – commander of Zone 5, which includes the area where the protest unfolded and much of Midtown – about Harris’ absence. A reporter followed up with the same question. Both received the same answer: They didn’t know.
The question – where in the world is APD’s gay liaison? – is similar to one heard four months ago after APD Acting Chief George Turner, standing next to Mayor Kasim Reed, pledged to “tweak” how the LGBT liaison is involved in agency operations. It’s a refrain heard just a month ago after Reed pledged to hire a second LGBT liaison for the department. And it’s a refrain that started seven months ago after the police department’s controversial raid of the Eagle.
That’s when critics of the raid and the police department questioned why Harris wasn’t at the Eagle when police stormed the bar. Harris wasn’t included in the undercover investigation leading up to the Sept. 11 raid nor did she learn about the raid and allegations of mistreatment leveled at officers until contacted the next morning by a reporter.
When Reed (bottom photo) took office and named Turner as his acting police chief, the criticism continued. That led Turner (second photo) to make this pledge during a Jan. 5 press conference in response to a question from Project Q Atlanta:
“We will definitely continue to have a gay liaison,” Turner said when asked about the position during a press conference. “As it relates to how Officer Harris works when we do investigations, we’ve tweaked the way that we inform her of issues as we are dealing with investigations and we will continue to have her involved early on in investigations. She will continue to be in that role. I have not looked at changing her out of that role.”
Last month, Reed – stung from criticism over a raid that he criticized as a candidate and that did not take place while he was in office – pledged to add at least a second LGBT liaison to the department. He said that during an April 7 interview with the GA Voice:
Reed said today he plans to add another LGBT police liaison, so that in the future there will be “a minimum of two,” and to insure that they are integrated in the police department’s operations.
“I believe in the approach of full integration, so the notion that an event like the Eagle raid would be done without [the LGBT liaison] being aware of it would be dealt with with an appropriate level of severity,” Reed said. “That will not happen in my administration, and if it did, there would be dire circumstances as a result.”
After Harris’ absence was questioned last Thursday, Harris confirmed that she was placed on medical leave on April 16. When pushed by reporters, the mayor’s office later issued a statement confirming that Harris was on leave and that the police department had named a new LGBT liaison.
The statement from Major Erika Shields:
Thank you for inquiring about the Department’s GLBT Unit liaison. Officer Harris is on leave at this time. We recently transferred Officer Patricia Powell to the unit to serve as the Department’s liaison. She is an excellent officer and I think you will be pleased at her joining the unit.
The Department put an extensive amount of time in preparing for the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church. Our goal was to ensure the safety of all parties involved, while maintaining the high quality of life that residents of the City of Atlanta can reasonably expect.
But prior to Shields’ statement, APD and the mayor’s office had not notified LGBT media outlets about Harris’ leave or the naming of a replacement. In other words, the public wasn’t alerted to the transition until reporters started asking about it. And Powell apparently was not at the Thursday protest; commanders at the scene didn’t even seem aware that Powell was the new LGBT liaison.
Apparently, Turner’s pledge that he’s “tweaked the way that we inform [the LGBT liaison] of issues” hasn’t filtered down to his command staff and Reed’s promise to add a second liaison hasn’t materialized.
Harris, for her part, is on leave while she grapples with gran mal seizures, which affect the brain.
“I really want the community to know that if I could have been there, I would have been there,” Harris told WABE on Friday.