Community leaders raise questions about new Atlanta Police GLBT liaison

Office Patricia Powell, the Atlanta Police Department’s new LGBT liaison, met with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community leaders in her first public event this morning. Powell said she took the job because “I need to do this for myself, for the department. This is my way of giving back.”

Approximately 20 members of Atlanta’s LGBT community attended the roundtable discussion with Powell this morning at the Atlanta Public Safety Headquarters. They included Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan, transgender activists Tracee McDaniel and Cheryl Courtney-Evans, Atlanta Pride Executive Director JP Sheffield and Pride Board Chair Cain Williamson, Glen Paul Freedman, representatives from Lambda Legal, and attorney Dan Grossman. Lambda and Grossman represent patrons of the Atlanta Eagle in a federal lawsuit alleging their constitutional rights were violated by APD officers who raided the gay bar in September.

Several questions were raised by attendees at this morning’s meeting that could not be answered by Powell; Reese McCrainie, deputy director of communications for Mayor Kasim Reed; or even Deputy Chief Ernest Finley. The questions include:

• How will Powell’s position be integrated with Officer Dani Lee Harris, the current LGBT liaison?
• Although Harris is officially on medical leave by the department, why was she not at the discussion this morning?
• What about the LGBT Citizens Advisory Board — what is its makeup or does one even still exist?

Grossman asked why Harris was not at the meeting today and asked if the department truly had two LGBT liaisons as Reed promised when he took office.

“Do we really have two?” Grossman asked.

McCranie answered that the meeting this morning was simply to introduce Powell to the community and that Harris was not invited because she is on medical leave.

Officer Dani Lee Harris (courtesy ProjectQ Atlanta)

Harris files complaint against APD

Harris called the Georgia Voice today to say she was not told of the meeting and would have been there if she could have been.

“I didn’t know about the meeting and I want to say I was never relieved from work medically because my doctor said I can work, but APD is not allowing me to return to work and it is not medical,” Harris said.

She has said publicly she was on medical leave for gran mal seizures, but today explained that she legally cannot drive because of the seizures she’s had in the past.

“I have a medical condition but it does not prevent me from doing my duties except driving,” Harris said. “I am trying to go back to work but they won’t let me.”

Harris said Major Erika Shields, chief of staff to the Chief of Police, and the Personnel Department were not allowing her to return to work. The Personnel Department falls under the supervision of Major Debra Williams, the Corporate Services Section Commander. Williams was head of the Red Dog unit that raided the gay bar the Atlanta Eagle last year and is now a defendant in a civil suit against the APD by several patrons of the bar who are represented by Grossman and by Lambda Legal. Harris, who was the full-time LGBT liaison for the APD at the time, was not informed of the raid until after it happened.

Harris has filed a complaint against the APD with the Office of Professional Standards, confirmed Sgt. Curtis Davenport, the APD public affairs officer. However he said he could not elaborate on what the complaint was about because it is an open investigation. Harris declined to comment on the complaint.

“There is currently an open investigation based on a complaint Officer Harris filed,” Davenport said in a May 17 email.

At today’s meeting, when asked about a community advisory board, Powell said she wanted the board to communicate with her. Asked a follow-up question about the board’s makeup, Powell and other officials there acknowledged they did not know if such a board actually existed.

“Powell is here because this is a leadership role and she has shown leadership,” said McCranie. “We want Officer Powell to feel empowered by her role.”

It was learned today that Powell officially took her position on May 4, two days before the Grady High School counter-protest against anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. McCranie said the reason Powell did not attend the counter-protest was because she was just hired for the job and “it was not an appropriate time to introduce Powell to the community.”


Powell: ‘You have to prove yourself’

Powell is a senior patrol officer who joined the APD 11 years ago after moving to Atlanta from Evanstown, Ill.

She has served as an officer in Zones 1 and 3, the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and worked in the Atlanta Police Training Academy as a trainer. She also worked in the Recruitment Unit.

Powell was in the U.S. Army for three years and the National Guard for six years. She received her bachlor’s of science degree in Criminal Justice from Saint Leo University in Florida.

Powell said she has been out for 20 years and has two sisters who are also gay.

Tracy Elliott, executive director of AID Atlanta, asked what it was like being openly gay in the Atlanta Police Department.

Powell chuckled and said, “It hasn’t been a bad experience. Number one, you’re a female and the police department is predominantly male, so you have to prove yourself. And when you’re gay…of course nobody says anything to my face, but you have people who aren’t happy with it.

“But my mother taught me to treat people the way you want to be treated,” Powell said. “And I’m kind of like a mother-figure in the department, especially with the recruits.”


Top photo: Atlanta’s new LGBT Liaison Officer Patricia Powell (By Dyana Bagby)