Black leaders rally for suspended cop

By Billy Corriher

Leaders of the black community rallied on Tuesday in support of Capt. Philip Neely, a Riverdale police officer placed on administrative leave this weekend, and some local residents called for the resignation of Chief Mike Edwards.

Neely, who for weeks has been alleging discrimination and harassment from city employees, was demoted to sergeant on Friday, but had his demotion reversed after a rally at city hall on Saturday, when Neely also learned he was being placed on administrative leave.

Edwards would not give a reason for either demoting Neely or placing him on leave, saying he does not discuss personnel matters with the media.

But Edwards said he has demoted other officers in the past, some for allegations of racism or other racism.

"When I have a person that's not being a team player, not being the kind of leader we need, I have to make a change," he said.

At the rally, organized by the local NAACP, Neely said he believes Edwards' actions were in retaliation for speaking about the threats to the media instead of coming to him first.

"He wouldn't give me any other reason," he said.

Dexter Matthews, president of the Clayton County chapter of the NAACP, called for Neely to be reinstated immediately.

"We will not tolerate discrimination," he said. "We're not going to sit down on this, we're going to stand for justice."

Several dozen local residents marched around city hall chanting "Edwards must go now!"

Edwards said he heard the protesters, but was not worried about his job security because he was addressing any problems in his department.

"I do not work based on public pressure," he said.

Black leaders at the rally also decried Edwards' decision to appoint Lisa Pressley as acting captain in Neely's absence. Edwards said Pressley was suspended once for using a racial slur, but he said her husband is black and the remark was probably not meant to be offensive, just a lapse in judgment.

Local resident MacArthur Hannah said he came to the rally to demand more action in response to racism allegations from the city of Riverdale. The city recently received a report from the Department of Justice that showed some perceived problems with race relations but found that city employees were generally content with their work environment.

Hannah said the cultural sensitivity classes the city council mandated in response to the report is not enough.

"You can't change things from the bottom," he said. "We need to get new leadership in the department."