Former officer candid about discrimination suit

By Ed Brock

Former Riverdale Police Officer Russell Rogers claims in a federal lawsuit charging the city with discrimination, that the city spied on him at home and called his doctor in an attempt to discover that he was HIV positive, leading to his termination last September.

Rogers also claims that he had a brief, "intimate relationship that included sexual activity" with one of his male supervisors at the department, now Maj. Greg Barney. That claim is supported by another former Riverdale officer.

Barney's attorney Mary Huber says her client plans to sue Russell for slander.

"There's no need to make these allegations," Huber said. "Greg denies them."

In an interview at his attorney's office on Friday, Rogers said he was at the top of his career when in December 2003 he discovered he was HIV positive.

"I was afraid of losing my job ... I really enjoyed my job a lot," said Rogers, who described a series of events over seven months leading up to his termination.

In February 2004, Rogers said he began taking medication for the virus, and the medication made him sick. When former Police Chief Mike Edwards began questioning him about why he was sick so often, Rogers told Edwards and another supervisor about his condition, but were supportive.

"(Edwards) told me, 'Don't worry, I'm not going to treat you any differently,'" Rogers said.

In May of 2004, while attending a city council meeting, Rogers said an unnamed council member began asking why the city's health insurance costs was going up. Shortly after that meeting he was transferred to another supervisor.

"They put me under him and things started going downhill," Rogers said. "I couldn't turn around without doing something wrong."

Rogers said he was written up twice by the new supervisor, but he successfully appealed those write ups. On June 21, 2004 Riverdale Police Officer Debra Johnson filed a grievance that said Barney, who was then interim police chief, was giving Rogers preferential treatment because of their previous relationship.

Rogers said he had told Johnson about the relationship when they were on a training trip together. Johnson said she had known Rogers was gay prior to that trip and at that time he told her about his relationship with Barney.

"I have no reason to doubt him," said Johnson, who was more upset that the relationship was between a superior officer and a subordinate. "If it was a male/female relationship it's still unethical."

Johnson said she began having conflicts with Barney shortly after filing her complaint. She was moved from her position as public information officer to the night shift. Johnson claims Barney didn't like the way she had handled a case. Seven months later, she quit the department claiming the night shift interfered with her family life.

Rogers said Barney had initiated the relationship about four years ago when Barney was still a sergeant. Rogers said that other department members began to suspect that Rogers was gay and Barney had also joked with him about it.

"I thought it was all jokes until one day he actually showed up (at my house)," Rogers said.

The relationship only lasted a month and during that time Barney seemed uncomfortable with the situation. Rogers' lawsuit alleges that the relationship contributed to an atmosphere of hostility. Rogers said he's endured jokes and comments from other officers as well.

Huber said the allegation of a relationship between Barney and Rogers is just a way to put pressure on the city. She said Barney is a family man and these allegations strike at the heart of his family.

"I'm just appalled that these kind of allegations are being made," Huber said. "Anybody can say anything."

Huber said they would be filing suit against Russell next week.

Rogers said that when Johnson filed her grievance he was out on sick leave for an illness not connected to his larger condition, and when he called in about two days later nobody made an issue of it. Then on another day the office called and told him he had to come in because they were short handed.

He refused, Rogers said, and later another supervisor called and ordered him to go to work. Again, he refused, saying he couldn't get out of bed.

Rogers said that while he was still on sick leave an officer came to his house to make sure he was really home sick. That officer ran the tag on Rogers' truck, something he thought was illegal so he later complained about it to state officials. Also, Rogers said one of his supervisors had called one of his doctors and tried to get information about his treatment and condition.

Part of the official reason City Manager Iris Jessie gave for his termination, Rogers said, is that the city learned that he had registered his tag using city hall as an address. He had done so, Rogers said, because he'd learned at a seminar that that was a good way to ensure his safety in the field by preventing criminals from learning where he lived.

Rogers also said the city sent the tag information to the Clayton County District Attorney's office.

Jessie said she could not comment on the case because it is pending litigation. On Friday the city had not yet responded to a written request for Rogers' personnel file and reason for termination.

Rogers said he has come to accept that his career as a police officer is over and he's trying to begin a career as a real estate agent. The drugs he is taking are keeping the virus at bay and he is not yet suffering from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

"I'm in perfect health," Rogers said.

However, most of his family only recently learned about his condition, and his sexual orientation, through the media attention paid to the suit. Now he's working to calm their fears, and he's also afraid of retaliation from the city or individuals who are angry about the allegations he is making.

But he feels compelled to persist.

"Riverdale thinks they're in a world of their own," Rogers said. "They think they can do what they want to do."

City attorney Deana Johnson said the city was served with the lawsuit last week and has 20 days from the date of service to file its official answers.

Rogers' suit, which requests a jury trial, asks for compensatory damages, including a retroactive compensation for loss of wages and salary as well as loss of future wages due to the harm his termination caused to his career as a police officer. Rogers also wants punitive damages, with both amounts to be set by the jury.

Also, Rogers asks the court to forbid the city from engaging in future discrimination and wants the city to pay for his legal and court costs.