Internal affairs investigation fails to determine whether sergeant made inappropriate comments, but he’ll be permanently reassigned anyway

Detective Laura Martin

An internal affairs investigation has failed to determine whether a Dallas police sergeant made inappropriate comments to two lesbian officers on Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day on Aug. 1.

DPD Assistant Chief Michael Genovesi told Dallas Voice the investigation was recently completed, yielding a “not sustained” outcome, which means investigators couldn’t prove whether the alleged action took place. While some may view that determination as meaning the allegations were unfounded, Genovesi said it’s a common outcome when other officers or witnesses are unable to verify complaints.

“People interpret when we say it was ‘not sustained,’ they interpret that to mean the guy was innocent. And that’s not what it is,” Genovesi said. “A lot of folks take that to mean you’re either covering up, you didn’t take it seriously, all that stuff.”

Genovesi said the complaint focused on a brief conversation between Sgt. Mark Johnson and two lesbian officers that took place prior to a detail meeting led by Johnson in the Southeast Patrol Division.

Johnson, a 12-year-veteran, allegedly placed a Chick-fil-A bag in front of the officers and made comments about having eaten at the restaurant, but “there was nobody else there to either support or refute that,” Genovesi said. Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was organized to show support for the restaurant chain’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

Genovesi said investigators took statements from the officers, Johnson and others who attended the detail meeting — which the officers left because they felt targeted by Johnson — but no independent witness overheard the comments beforehand. Not sustained outcomes are common because many complaints involve brief interactions that aren’t overheard or observed.

“There’s discrepancy in what they say between one side and the other side. What happened in the detail, there was nothing really untoward there,”

Genovesi said. “The bigger issue was what happened or the conversation between he and the two officers prior to the start of the detail.”

During the detail meeting, Johnson read an announcement sent out by Genovesi concerning how officers were to handle a gay kiss-in counterprotest planned at Chick-fil-A restaurants two days later. The two officers left the meeting because Johnson was looking at them while reading the announcement.

“A lot of people on both sides — forget police officers — a lot of people on both sides take significant issue with both positions, whether in opposition to or in support of Chick-fil-A,” he said. “The fact that he announced that in detail, I think one of the female officers took exception because I think she thought he was still needling from the prior conversation.”

Genovesi said it’s possible that anything said could have been misunderstood, but Johnson will be permanently reassigned. He was assigned to the jail pending the outcome of the investigation.

Both parties will be informed of the outcome, but Genovesi said it’s uncommon that they sit down and discuss the incident. And Johnson will likely be moved back to patrol but to a different division.

Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager at Resource Center Dallas, said the complaint may follow Johnson and the officers, and DPD is missing a chance to sit down and address the possible misunderstanding.

“I think that probably some dialogue would be appropriate between the two parties in terms of what happened to try and air it out for both sides,”

McDonnell said. “There wouldn’t have been a complaint made if the two lesbians officers didn’t have a legitimate concern.”

Detective Laura Martin, DPD’s LGBT liaison, said it’s challenging to prove discrimination when there are no witnesses, adding that she was glad the police chief acted quickly and transferred Johnson during the investigation.

“The good that came out of it is the chief addressed it immediately and transferred him out just in case there was an actual problem and didn’t just ignore the matter,” she said. “If nothing else, it sent a pretty clear message through the entire department that that kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated. We’re going to look into complaints like this.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 7, 2012.