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Employee points to "culture of bigotry" at animal shelter

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.

Comments

BurritoJones 2 years, 6 months ago

"smile so I can see you" - Okay, I'm going to confess that I laughed at that. But I feel really bad about it.

But to be clear: not cool. This is 2012, not 1955. If you can't get over your prejudices toward someone for the skin color they were born with, you don't belong in this society.

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Veryconcernedcitizen 2 years, 6 months ago

Really I could care less about the animal shelter or what goes on there.

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R 2 years, 6 months ago

Its GOOD that you could care less somehow that means you care a bit but SAD you feel that way, the county is SPENDING your money there.

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jljustis 2 years, 6 months ago

And you posted this for what reason?

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R 2 years, 6 months ago

How about maybe giving someone a selfish, self serving reason to be involved?

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jljustis 2 years, 6 months ago

Involved? "Veryconcernedcitizen: Really I could care less about the animal shelter or what goes on there." How can anyone be less involved?

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gwinnettisgreat1 2 years, 6 months ago

Let's be honest. Young black man walks into the shelter and wants to know if there are any Pit Bulls that are up for adoption. He does not want any other kind of dog, he wants a Pit and a Pit only.

What is the first thing that pops into your mind?

A. He must want a good family pet. B. He must rescue Pit Bulls. C. He wants to raise this dog so he can fight / bet on it. D. He must want a lap dog.

Here is an employee using common sense and people want to rail her. The wussification of America rolls on.

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icecold 2 years, 6 months ago

Congratulations on reaffirming the stereotype that folks from the south are backwards.

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gwinnettisgreat1 2 years, 6 months ago

So now lets roll it this way:

Middle Eastern man walks into one of the offices over at Briscoe and says he wants to learn how to fly a plane. Upon inquiring the instructor refuses to give him lessons, because he is Middle Eastern, does not own a plane and seems suspicious.

Is he using common sense or is he sterotyping?

No, the problem is we have let minorities trick us into believing if we use common sense or "screening" then we are bigots and racist. So you run around saying that folks from the south are backwards. Thanks for reaffirming that you too enjoy sterotyping people. It is called LIFE. Get over it. Quit appologizing for using your brain!!!!

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BurritoJones 2 years, 6 months ago

Doubling down on the racism isn't going to help your case.

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icecold 2 years, 6 months ago

Again, congratulations on trying to defend your ignorance with more ignorance. Let's run with the example that you gave about the plane but make the person white? Would they still be suspicious? Because you know most domestic terrorist attacks in our country have traditionally been committed by white males, correct? Now lets say that the person who was asking for these lessons was a man by the name of Joseph Stack, who flew a plane into a building a few years ago out of anger because of taxes. Would you have NOT profiled this man because he was a white man, despite of the fact that he doesn't own a plane and seems suspicious? What's my point? My point is stop being racist, and treat people like decent human beings. Like somebody said before we dont live in the 1950's, and some folks in Georgia need to start acting like they live in the 21st century.

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kingcandice 2 years, 6 months ago

I have helped at the shelter. I have worked with and around animals all of my life. I am an owner of 3 pitbulls, I am a white female. The sterotype that they have at the shelter and with the police department is that gang members, young black man have pitbulls. That just isn't true. They have a lot of pitbulls at the shelter. They have so many rules to adopted them out. They are the first to be put down.

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R 2 years, 6 months ago

Put Bulls make the news "A lot of rules" translate into an attempt at liability control / mitigation...

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WDW 2 years, 6 months ago

Although this really has nothing to do with the news story that we are posting about, I agree with some of your comments, however the comment you made about rules and the pit bulls being the first to be put down infuriates me.

You state that you have helped out the shelter, if you actually did you obviously did not pay attention. You are speaking about rules to adopt animals, specifically pit bulls. Yes, I will say to you that there are rules that apply to adopting animals, but they are the same for ALL animals no matter what breed it is you are adopting.

Also if you allegedly have "helped" there in the past you would know that the statement you made about the bully breed being the first to be put down is completely bogus. Unfortunately the animals must be put down, it is more humane to do that than to let the animals suffer to the point of insanity because no one will come ADOPT them. It has nothing to do with the breed of the animal however. Each INDIVIDUAL animal is different as far as how long they can stay up for adoption.

Does the shelter euthanize a higher number of pit bulls? They might, however I would suggest that it is because of the stereotype that MANY people, including the news media and culture has given to this breed. However they ARE NOT the first ones to be put down just because they are "pit bulls." I have several friends with pit bulls and they are some of the sweetest dogs I have ever been around.

The answer is to spay/neuter animals so that so many do not have to filter into the shelter to begin with.

In reference to the shelter's adoption rules, here's an idea ... Get educated and then comment.

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teelee 2 years, 6 months ago

I think Gwinnett County has a strong record of Hiring minorities and providing them with an excellent workplace full of opportunities. If this is true, then I support what they did to resolve it. There is no room for this kind of behavior at any job.

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dazzle 2 years, 6 months ago

The emphasis at the shelter should be on the welfare of the animals. Lt Respess was not the best manager in the world but I think she was trying to do a good job. Unfortunately things at the shelter have gone steadily downhill since she left and so many animals who were very adoptable have lost their lives due to the mindset of the people now running the shelter.. The Police department should not be operating the shelter, they can handle the animal control part and investigating cruelty ect. But the shelter needs to be run as a separate entity reporting directly to the County Commissioners. They need a compassionate person with experience in running a shelter with a true love for animals. Please check out the posts on the following blog to learn more about what is happening at our shelter.. http://by20hounds.blogspot.com/

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CharlesH 2 years, 6 months ago

I think it is despicable that the Gwinnett Daily Post and the Gwinnett Police Dept. released the name of the Officer that filed the original complaint. That is like pointing fingers at the whistle blower. He should receive a commendation for doing something that the HR dept. should have handled. What happened to protection and privacy in these type matters and his rights? His name release was not necessary to make this story.

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Motor76 2 years, 5 months ago

My sister is an animal control officer in another county. The stereotypes happen to be statistically true. Most bully breeds ARE owned by minorities in her county and mostly unregistered, unvaccinated and almost never spayed or neutered unless acquired from the Pound. She has also witnessed that most cruelty cases do involve minorities, whether through fighting these animals or breading them for profit, or just plain neglect. Its not a racial thing it is a CULTURAL thing, and very sad when an animal is used to help define manhood for these thugs. Statistics equal fact...fact equals action, and the proper action taken is to be suspicious of the homes these dogs are going to by a more detailed screening of adoptees and follow up visits. These are living creatures being treated as commodities by lowlife, inhumane, losers and we should be diligent for the sake of the animals

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