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

Small-town gay life

GAY MICROCOSM | With fewer than 50,000 residents, San Luis de la Paz doesn’t even have a gay bar, but that hasn’t stopped queer Dallasites from calling it home. (Photos by Jesus Chairez)

JESUS CHAIREZ  | Special Contributor
chairezstudio@gmail.com

SAN LUIS DE LA PAZ, Guanajuato, México — No rainbow flags, no gay bars, no Pride parade, but for ex-Dallasites Ron Austin and Lamar Strickland, this small Mexican town has plenty of gay life in it.

Austin and Strickland sold most everything and packed up what they could, moving to San Luis de La Paz four years ago. Austin says that he first discovered San Luis years ago when accompanied his best friend Manolo Arrendondo, also from Dallas, back home to visit his family for Christmas one year. When Arrendondo moved back to México to care for his ailing mother, Austin and Strickland soon followed.

Austin used to work for AIDS Arms for many years before retiring from the Baylor Geriatric Center. Strickland still works but telecommutes to his job in the U.S.

Though most people think that it is not safe — and even dangerous — for LGBT people to vacation much less live in México, Austin says that he and his partner feel safe.

“In general I have not found much homophobia here and for most people it seems like a non-issue. But yes, there are homophobic people in San Luis and Mexico. We get called names now and then, but then we sometimes got called names in Dallas, too.”

RURAL DRAG | Clockwise from above: Karla aka Carlos and ‘La?Mosca’ aka Adry staged a successful drag pageant this month in the new hometown of Dallas transplants Lamar Strickland and Ron Austin.

Things have changed in San Luis, says the couple, who have spoken to their trans friends Carlos, now known as Karla and Adry Pardo Garcia, known by his nickname, la Mosca (“the Fly”) about the changes: Harassment is basically verbal today and not physical like in the past.

Though there are no gay bars in San Luis, a town of about 49,000, gay people do go out and dance. It is sort of a don’t ask, don’t tell situation where gays blend into the crowd; two men dancing together is something gay men just don’t do.

Though Austin and Strickland say they don’t feel much homophobia in San Luis, “Only the drag queens get by with gay behavior, like dancing together or displays of affection,” says Austin.

Though there are no official gay events in San Luis, five years ago Karla and Adry Pardo Garcia, leaders in the trans and drag queen community, and several of their friends got together to have a Ms. San Luis de la Paz annual pageant called Nuestra Belleza Gay (Our Gay Beauty). Carlos and Garcia say their pageant does give pride to San Luis’ growing LGBT community.

In the U.S., drag queens and transsexuals are often at the forefront of the LGBT movement; it is no different here in México, especially in San Luis. For example, earlier this month the girls got into a Blazer and put loud speakers on the roof of the automobile that blared out announcements for their Ms. San Luis Gay 2011 event held at Bar One, a club almost in the center of town.

As the Blazer drove down San Luis’ narrow streets, the girls — in full makeup and outfits — handed out flyers as they approached anyone on the street. Everyone seemed to be fine with all the glitter and glamour. The Nuestra Belleza Gay marketing worked; it was a sold-out crowd at Bar One. Austin was a judge for this year’s event, as he was last year.

Even before the pageant started there was enthusiasm: As the sun was setting all Nuestra Belleza Gay participants, along with their supporters, gathered at the main bus station where the contestants sat on the hood of a car and everyone caravanned through town with a police escort — basically a very small Pride parade. Small clusters of people did wait along the route that went through the center of town to wave and enjoy the beauty.

Though there may not be gay bars or a gayborhood to speak of, Austin and Strickland, along with their two dogs, Osa and Hoppy and a cat named Miche, are enjoying their new life in  México.

Jesús Chairez is an activist and freelance writer; former producer and host of U.S.’s first LGBT Latino show Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) on KNON 89.3 FM. He resides between Dallas and México City.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens