Dan Lee Harris moves on

LGBT of­fi­cer quits ATL Po­lice Depart­ment

GA Voice - - Front Page -

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.

(Photo by Pa­trick Saun­ders)

Dani Lee Harris says he’ll miss serv­ing the LGBT com­mu­nity most.

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