LAWRENCEVILLE -- Its manager and two other employees have left Gwinnett's animal shelter following an internal investigation stemming from allegations of "a culture of bigotry."
Lt. Mary Lou Respess, the shelter's leader, retired in May following the completion of the investigation, Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said. Officer Jason Cannon, a supervisor, resigned in lieu of termination. Smith was unfamiliar with the name of the third employee to leave.
Documents regarding the case were made available Thursday afternoon and obtained by the Daily Post.
The investigation into Respess and several other employees began in February after Officer Eldred Henfield -- who described himself as animal control's only black officer -- filed a formal complaint alleging an atmosphere of racism there since he began work in late 2008.
Henfield cited several examples, including one employee asking him what "you all call yourselves these days, afros, colored, negroes, huh, what is it?" Respess was allegedly present during the conversation and did not intervene.
He said Respess called President Barack Obama an "(expletive) ape," and pointed to another email circulated around the office comparing First Lady Michelle Obama to Cheeta, the ape from "Tarzan."
Another officer, Henfield said, told him to "smile so I can see you" during a power outage at the shelter.
Several more examples were cited in the 100-plus page document, including comments directed toward Hispanics.
More than 30 employees were interviewed during the investigation. Several, while they didn't confirm the specific incidents, agreed with Henfield's general description of the animal shelter's atmosphere.
Said one officer: "It's more drama filled, most of the time it's always negative. I used to like to come to work, I'm trying to think of reasons to call out now."
Said another: "The environment is not good and it all stems from the director, Lieutenant Respess. The morale is really bad and she is very negative toward people and citizens."
Respess denied the allegations during her interview with internal affairs. She said she reprimanded the employee who sent out the Obama email and did the same if she ever heard racist comments.
"There are no comments about ethnicities that I hear, because I won't put up with it," she said.
Respess could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The investigation also found that it was believed throughout the facility that Officer Christine Hughes, the shelter's adoption coordinator, stereotyped potential animal adopters. Several employees told internal affairs that Hughes told them "don't necessarily show young African American and Latino men pit bulls first because that's all they want, or don't show Asians large dogs because all they want is watch dogs."
Hughes reportedly also said Hispanic families only want chihuahuas.
Respess said she wouldn't be surprised.
"I do understand she's ultimately concerned with the animals and it doesn't surprise me that something like that would be said," Respess said.
Maj. Dan Bruno was assigned to manage the shelter when Respess was placed under investigation and reassigned. Smith, the police spokesman, said Bruno has remained in that capacity but the department has publicized the opening and has received several applications.