Atlanta Police officials are calling a photo emailed to a local TV station of a framed picture of "CHiPS" star Erik Estrada with the phrase "You're a homo" written on the picture a "sick joke" possibly meant to embarrass the APD.
A sergeant who worked in the office called Propes Wednesday night to tell her the photo was his. He retired about three months ago and told her the photo had been in a desk drawer for a decade. The segeant said he thought he put it in the trash when he retired, Propes said.
“He called me and wanted to apologize to me and the APD,” Propes said.
The sergeant, whose name she did not give, looked like Erik Estrada, loved it when people called him “Ponch,” collected “CHiPS” action figures and even had a photo of himself with Estrada and John Wilcox, the stars of the show.
“He said the photo was given to him more than a decade ago and he threw it in a desk drawer. When he retired, he said he thought he put it in the trash,” Propes said.
For the photo to surface like this saddened him, she said. She acknowledged he was one of her favorite sergeants and was a great mentor.
“If you asked him, he would call me a good friend. There is no mean spirit in him and he has nothing against gay people,” she said.
The situation is also hurting his family, Propes said. The retired sergeant is the step-father of a lesbian who was recently married to another woman. He told Propes he was upset to be associated with this kind of situation.
“We don’t know why somebody put this out,” Propes said. “It’s some kind of stupid joke.”
The APD has struggled with its relationship with LGBT people since Sept. 10, 2009, when police raided the Atlanta Eagle, a Midtown gay bar. The result of the botched raid included several officers being fired, settlements of nearly $1.5 million to patrons and employees and severe scoldings from the public on how the APD treats LGBT people.
Since that time, sensitivity training has been implemented for all officers. But is it working?
“We take a step forward, then this happens and makes it look like we have not,” said Propes.
“We are a very progressive police department with lots of openly gay officers, I being one of them. I don’t experience any discrimination. We had a recruitment booth during Atlanta Pride with gay and straight officers working the booth. We have rainbow pins now, too, and straight officers are wearing the pins,” she said.
“It’s frustrating. We have an officer who for some reason decided to send the photo to Fox 5. They could’ve brought it to someone in the department. I’m troubled all the way around,” Propes said.
Campos, APD spokesperson, said the investigation will try to determine if the photo has been sitting on someone’s desk for 10 years and nobody ever said anything or if someone dug it out of the trash or a desk drawer “for who knows what reason” as a way to embarrass the department.
“It might be a cultural issue, but if it was dragged out of a drawer or the trash — that’s different. That doesn’t excuse the messaging. It is inappropriate,” Campos said.
Officers found guilty of discrimination face a series of punishments, including dismissal, Campos said.