(VIDEO) UPDATED: Allegations of racial profiling by Decatur Police draw emotional reaction
Decatur Police are investigating allegations of racial profiling by its officers, City Manager Peggy Merriss said during the Jan. 6 City Commission meeting.
Decatur Police spokeswoman Sgt. Jennifer Ross said she wasn’t familiar with the investigation when Decaturish.com contacted her for a statement. (UPDATE: See the statement from Deputy Police Chief Keith Lee at the end of this article.) The alleged incident that prompted the investigation upset commissioners. They apologized to Don Denard, a former city school board member, after he told them he was stopped by officers who were racially profiling him.
Denard, 63, has lived in Decatur since 1981, and served on the city’s school board from 1989 to 1997. He recounted his experience in a letter to Decatur Police Chief Mike Booker.
“December 4, 1997 was declared ‘Don Denard Day’ by the Decatur City Commission for my years of service on the school board,” he wrote to Booker. “However, the luster of that honor bestowed on me as an elected public official wore off on December 15, 2013 due to the degrading experience I suffered at the hands of the police on my street, in my neighborhood, in the city of Decatur.”
Denard told commissioners at the meeting that he was just walking down his street on Dec. 15 when a black Decatur Police Officer stopped him. He wasn’t far from his home on South Candler Street. A police officer asked him for his ID. Denard refused, saying he was a resident of the neighborhood and had done nothing wrong. Two other officers, one white and one black, arrived on the scene.
Denard said the officer told him there was an investigator at his home because his back door was left open. He said special investigator, who is white, called for additional officers after seeing him leave his home to go for a walk. Denard said the door was “slightly ajar.”
There have been other racial profiling incidents in the city, Denard said. Denard said police stopped a black teacher in Oakhurst. Another story circulated on the social networking website Nextdoor alleges that police officers stopped a black man on Pinetree Drive who was walking to the drug store after someone called police to report a suspicious person.
Denard said he wants an apology and sensitivity training for police officers.
Mayor Jim Baskett apologized and said he hadn’t seen Denard’s letter until shortly before the commission meeting. Denard’s story moved Commissioner Kecia Cunningham to tears.
“It is unconscionable to think that walking down the street, your street, is means for being detained,” Cunningham said.
UPDATED: Deputy Chief Lee sent the following statement in response to the allegations made by Denard:
“We received Mr. Denard’s complaint and we take complaints of this nature very seriously. We recognize that racial profiling is an issue in communities across the country and cannot deny that it has occurred in our city in the past. However, we work very hard to prevent instances of racial profiling. We have policies and procedures in place and conduct training for our officers to raise awareness. We are dedicated to making certain we treat people with dignity and respect during the course of our duties. We will thoroughly investigate this incident and will keep Mr. Denard and the city leadership informed of our findings.”