Dan Lee Harris moves on
LGBT officer quits ATL Police Department
By PATRICK SAUNDERS
Name a trial or a tribulation and Dani Lee Harris can probably top it. Raised by a single mother on welfare in the projects in Harlem, New York. Shuffled through the foster care system. Lost a mother to lupus at age 17. Came out as intersex.
The latest tribulation (that almost led to a real trial) was a years-long odyssey that started in 2009. Harris, who prefers he/him pronouns, was then six years into a career as an officer with the Atlanta Police Department and four years in as the department’s LGBT liaison when he made comments critical of the department’s handling of the unconstitutional raid on the Atlanta Eagle.
The following April, he filed a complaint alleging anti-gay bias by an APD administrative assistant. Two days later he was sent home, the department later saying he was put on medical leave due to two grand mal seizures he had had in recent months. This was despite Harris’ claims that he was cleared to work by a doctor.
That September, Harris accused the department of “blackballing” him from the job, claiming it was retaliation for his comments about the Eagle raid and the complaint he filed. He was finally allowed back to work that October, but not as an LGBT liaison.
Harris, who works in code enforcement for the APD, sued the city in federal court last July. He agreed to a settlement of $140,000 earlier this month, but he didn’t consider the suit completely settled until now. Harris now holds a doctorate in business administration and is a published author and adjunct professor. This week, per Harris’ request, his attorney drew up settlement terms clearing the way for him to leave the force.
When did you first think that you wanted to get involved in law enforcement?
I think I’ve always known growing up.
“I enjoyed serving the LGBT community, as messy as we can be at times, and as ungrateful [laughs] as we can be at times. As much as we fight, at the end of the day there’s no greater community to serve than those that are constantly having to fight for something.” I’ve always had the inclination that I was supposed to be in law enforcement. I always just wanted to give service that way.
So you joined the force in June 2003 and became LGBT liaison in 2005. What were those days like before things started to go south in 2009?
Ah man, I tell you it was lovely. Under the [Richard] Pennington administration, he had done such a great job getting rid of the good old boy system. And then me getting the LGBT position and working in his office directly was phenomenal. I loved it.
So the Eagle raid happens in September 2009 and you made some comments about the department. Then Mayor Kasim Reed took office in January 2010 and Chief George Turner replaces Chief Pennington. And a few months later, the administrative assistant makes the comments to you.
What happened to me within the chief ’s office under Chief Turner is his direct major allowed what happened to me to happen. And that’s Deputy Chief [Erika] Shields. The fact that she allowed her assistant to speak to me in the manner that she spoke to me, instead of her taking the position of “this is wrong,” she took the position of “this is my assistant and I’m going to protect her regardless of how wrong she is.” And that therefore opened up the avenue for the lawsuit.
There were two parts that were happening at the same time. One was the Eagle raid in the background and the other one was what happened in the office around the same time, which just made their retaliation that much greater.
Then I had the seizure and in turn they told the media that I was out on grand mal seizures. Mind you, I was always cleared by my doctor to come back to work.
So you agreed to the dollar amount in the lawsuit, but you don’t consider it settled?
It never settled. The reason it was never settled was because I asked for the reserve program with three years of service. They wanted to give me the three years of service but they don’t want me in the reserve program. So the lawsuit is still pending.
As a matter of fact, I just called my attorney today and told her to forget the reserve program. I’ll get the three years of service, go ahead and retire at 15 and I’m done with them. I’m done. You just get so disgusted that you keep fighting these people.
I talked to my wife about it and she was like, “Do you feel like they won?” I said no, either way they didn’t win but at the end of the day I felt like I should at least be able to get the reserve program. But the other side of me says that’s a tie that I need to cut. So go ahead and let them have it. Let me go ahead and move on.
That’s why I went back to school to get my doctorate. That’s why I went back to school to finish my masters while I was out, just so I can have another avenue and not have to have a tie. So why continuously ask for a tie to this agency when I don’t have to have one? At this point, that’s why I’m letting it go.
So you are done with law enforcement completely?
I am for now in that capacity, when it comes to policing. I’m going to teach. I do teach right now, I love it. That’s really my passion and my calling. I like adjunct because I’m not really tied to any one school so I’ll continue to do that, and I still do corporate training.
What do you think you’ll miss the most about law enforcement?
Some of the people. And the community that I served. I enjoyed serving the LGBT community, as messy as we can be at times, and as ungrateful [laughs] as we can be at times, as much as we fight, at the end of the day there’s no greater community to serve than those that are constantly having to fight for something.
Dani Lee Harris says he’ll miss serving the LGBT community most.