Balch Springs PD: Investigation into gay man’s death is ongoing

Police chief says anti-gay behavior by officers not tolerated, says such behavior by investigator is unlikely

Police_Chief_Morris

Police Chief Ed Morris

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

BALCH SPRINGS — Balch Springs Police Chief Ed Morris said an investigation into the death of a gay man in his city is ongoing. Answering charges of homophobia in his department lodged by the dead man’s family, Morris said that he doesn’t tolerate that sort of behavior in his officers.

The body of Rodney Johnson was found in his trailer in Balch Springs on Nov. 12.

Morris said that there was no sign of foul play in Johnson’s death but that his department is awaiting test results from the Dallas County medical examiner before proceeding with an investigation. Those results take about three months to return.

Johnson’s sister Duby Redburn said that the officer she spoke to snickered and said, “I don’t know what sort of lifestyle he led,” when describing what he found.

“He was very insensitive,” Redburn said of the detective’s behavior.

Morris made it clear he wouldn’t tolerate that sort of behavior from his officers.

“I don’t think any of my officers would make an anti-gay comment,” he said.

He said that if he thought that any officer was guilty of that sort of behavior, that officer would be in his office immediately and he would take care of it. But Morris said he would especially surprised if he heard it about the specific officer Redburn accused.

Johnson did not show up for work at his job as a security guard at a Bank of America branch on Thursday, Nov. 10. His supervisor became worried when she couldn’t reach him by phone, so she drove to his home. When he didn’t answer the door, she called police.

The supervisor and Johnson’s family have said police never responded to the call.

But Morris said department records indicate that Johnson’s supervisor’s call to police was logged at 2:41 p.m. on Nov. 11, and that a patrol car was dispatched to Johnson’s address at 2:49 p.m. He said that was reasonable response time for that sort of non-emergency “welfare check” call.

Police arrived at 3:03 p.m. at the location, Morris said.

The officer responding to the call reported that there was no odor coming from the trailer.

He asked neighbors about Johnson’s car that was parked in an odd position. Neighbors said it had been there for several days.

Morris said they searched records to see if there were additional calls from the supervisor’s phone number but could not find any, although the supervisor said she had called both 911 and the department’s direct line phone number.

A police department spokesman initially told Dallas Voice there was no record of either call.

Johnson’s body was found the next day when his brother, Roger Johnson, got a call from Rodney’s boyfriend in Canada, worried that he hadn’t heard from him. Roger Johnson used his key to the trailer to enter, and found his brother lying on the floor, face down.

Roger Johnson had said his brother’s body was lying in a pool of blood.

The call record indicates police were dispatched in 30 seconds and arrived in minutes.

Morris said he didn’t recall seeing any blood on the floor in the police pictures taken before Johnson was transported by helicopter to the hospital. But he said the body showed signs of lividity, meaning the blood had settled to the lower part of the body, which indicated he had been lying on the floor for some time before he was found.

Other issues remain unresolved, such as an unauthorized attempt to access Johnson’s bank account the week after his death. But since the original article appeared in

Dallas Voice on Dec. 23, Redburn has been in touch with city officials and has been assured the case is still open.
Last year, Balch Springs had no homicides.

“The crime rate’s been down for the last few years,” Morris said. “We want to keep it that way.”
But he said that if there is an indication from the medical examiner that Johnson’s death was caused by anything other than natural causes, “We will actively investigate.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

UPDATE: Suspect arrested in D.C. shooting

Police in Washington, D.C., have charged Darryl Willard with “assault with intent to kill while armed,” in connection with the shooting early Monday of a transgender woman in southeast D.C.

Washington, D.C. police are investigating the death of this unidentified person who was found wearing facial make-up and carrying a pair of light-colored heels

According to the Washington Post, after being shot at about 1:50 a.m. in the 2300 block of Savannah Street SE, the victim walked to the Seventh District Police Headquarters to report the crime. The Post reports that the victim knew her attacker and gave his name to police. Willard later turned himself in to authorities.

The victim, who is not named in the newspaper’s article, was taken to the hospital and is expected to recover from her injuries.

In the meantime, police continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of a man whose body was found early Saturday, according to reports by the Associated Press. Police said that when the man’s body was found, he had makeup on his face and had with him a pair of light-colored high-heel shoes. The man appears to be Hispanic or Middle Eastern and between the ages of 25 and 30.

Police said they have no information on whether the dead man was gay or transgender, and that his body showed no signs of trauma.

The Monday shooting was the fourth time in less than two months that a transgender woman has been shot or shot at in the D.C. area. On July 20, Lashai Mclean died after being shot by a man who approached her as she walked with a friend in the city’s Northeast section. The man asked Mclean a question and then pulled a gun and shot her before she could answer, according to the friend, who was uninjured.

Eleven days later and just blocks away from the site of Mclean’s murder, a suspect approached another trans woman, asked for change and then pulled a gun and shot at her before she could answer. The shot missed and the woman was uninjured.

And in August, a D.C. police officer on medical leave was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon after he stood on the hood of a car and fired into the car containing two men and two trans women. One of the men was injured slightly in the attack.

—  admin

Gay DISD cop among few out male officers

Although Jeremy Liebbe is 100 percent out, he declined to be photographed for this story because he does undercover work.

Jeremy Liebbe serves as co-commander for major Oak Lawn events and is a board member at Youth First Texas

JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Jeremy Liebbe’s coming-out-at-work experience was unusual to say the least.

It was September 2004, and Liebbe had been with the Dallas Independent School District’s police force for less than two months. He and another officer were traveling down U.S. Highway 175 toward “Dead Man’s Curve” at a high rate of speed late at night, with their lights and sirens activated, responding to a call for help from a third officer who was in a fight with some suspects.

Liebbe’s partner, a former Marine raised in South Dallas, was behind the wheel. (“Not the individual you would think to come out to,” Liebbe says.)

Liebbe’s partner suddenly turned to him and said flatly, “Are you gay?”

“My first thought was, if I answer correctly, are we going to wreck out in Dead Man’s Curve?” Liebbe recalls. “I just said, ‘Well, yeah.’ And he said, ‘OK, cool.’ Then we go down and deal with the fighting suspects and get everybody in custody, and he decides to out me to the suspects and the other officer by telling them what type of person, in Marine terminology, just kicked their tail.

“I was like, well, that’s one way to come out at work.”

A few weeks later, Liebbe says, rumors about his sexual orientation, now confirmed, had “spread like wildfire,” and he found himself called in to meet with his supervisor, the lieutenantover internal affairs. The lieutenant explained there was a rumor going around that Liebbe was gay.

“I said, ‘OK, well it’s true.’ And he said, ‘So you’re just going to freely admit it?’” Liebbe recalls. “I said, ‘One, we have our nondiscrimination policies that are board mandated, and two, as the internal affairs lieutenant, if I lied to you about something as trivial as that, would you ever trust me again?’

“He said, ‘That’s a damn good point.’”

Since then, Liebbe says, his sexual orientation hasn’t been much of an issue at DISD, and he gets along well with the lieutenant.

“There have been some situations that have come up at work, as would be expected in a paramilitary organization, but for the most part, I’m a supervisor now,” he says. “Most people, just because of the fact that I’m a supervisor, are going to leave me alone. It also helps that DISD has a longstanding nondiscrimination policy for employment practices that covers sexual orientation, so that gives some fallback.”

Today, the 32-year-old Liebbe has been with the DISD police for more than six years and serves as a detective sergeant in narcotics. (Because he does undercover work, he didn’t want his photograph to appear alongside this story.)

Liebbe is one of the few openly gay police officers in North Texas who are male — if not the only one. And as it turns out, Liebbe’s decision to go into law enforcement was something of an accident that began in the gayborhood.

In 2001, Liebbe was studying computer science at UT Dallas and had started a database design company. At 22, he had “damn good money flowing in,” and he says he found himself on the Cedar Springs strip three to five nights a week.

At the time, Liebbe says, there was gang activity in some of the clubs. As a regular who happened to be a first-degree black belt, Liebbe says he wound up ending a couple of fights “quickly and efficiently.”

When Caven’s security team asked Liebbe to join them, he questioned why he’d want to. But after learning it would mean free drinks and reduced cover charges, “I said, ‘Where do I sign up?’” Liebbe recalls.

Shortly thereafter, Liebbe caught the attention of Sgt. Lynn Albright, then the Dallas Police Department’s LGBT liaison officer, who noticed that he was a little different from other Caven security guards.

“She said, ‘If you want something to do when you’re bored, come play with us,’” Liebbe recalls.

Albright asked Liebbe to ride along with her twice, and if he wasn’t’ convinced to go to the police academy and become a reserve officer, she’d leave him alone.

“I actually thought she was crazy for suggesting I become a cop,” he recalls.

But Liebbe was hooked, and despite becoming a cop, he never abandoned his roots in the LGBT community.

For the last eight years, Liebbe has worked all of the major events on Cedar Springs, from Pride to the Halloween block party to, most recently, the Super Bowl block party. And for the last three years, he’s served as operations co-commander for them.

It’s a huge job that requires hundreds of hours of preparations for each event on the part of Liebbe and two co-commanders.

“We almost are getting to the point where we literally roll from one event to another,” he says.

Liebbe says he’s proud of how smoothly events run in Oak Lawn compared to other areas of the city. And he’s convinced so many DISD officers to work the events that they now typically make up half the law enforcement presence — which he says ultimately benefits LGBT youth.

Liebbe also serves as a volunteer and board member at Youth First Texas, which stemmed from his role on the Pride Steering Committee since YFT is a beneficiary of the parade.

As an Eagle Scout who was eventually ousted from the Boy Scouts for being gay, Liebbe says he’s always had a place in his heart for youth organizations.

He began volunteering at YFT a few years ago while taking some time off from work, after he’d just finished investigating 33 cheese heroin deaths at DISD.

He recalled that on his YFT volunteer application he wrote, only half-jokingly: “I think it would be spiritually uplifting to work with at-risk groups who are not in handcuffs.”

As it turns out, the presence of a law enforcement officer at YFT has both practical and symbolic importance. For example, the former director of YFT sometimes questioned why Liebbe insisted on carrying a concealed firearm at the center — until a deadly shooting a few years ago at an LGBT youth center in Israel.

Liebbe also teaches a self-awareness and self-defense program at YFT called SEED, which stands for Survive, Evade, Escalate and Destroy. Liebbe, who was bullied as a teenager, says his role as a DISD police officer gives him an interesting perspective on the problem, and the recent LGBT youth suicide crisis reopened old wounds.

Despite its name, Liebbe says the SEED program, which he wrote with a friend, doesn’t advocate violence. Instead, the program is based on the idea that most bullies will back down if you stand up to them, even if it’s just verbally.

“We teach that violence is a last resort,” he says. “You don’t hit anybody unless they’ve taken a swing at you. But once the bullying escalates to violence, once it becomes bashing, then the nature of the game needs to change.”

Liebbe says he makes clear to YFT youth that he isn’t there as a cop, before adding that he hopes they’re never involved in one of his investigations, because his case clearance rate is pretty high.

But given the perception in the LGBT community that law enforcement isn’t gay-friendly — and the fact that a lot of officers sleep through diversity training — Liebbe acknowledges that the mere presence of a gay law enforcement officer at YFT can’t hurt.

“Every one of the youth there who get to know me can say there’s at least one cop that, if I see him, I can give him a hug and he’ll help me,” Liebbe says.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright