The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, when Darien, GA Police Chief Donnie Howard found out his 16-year-old daughter, who is white, had a black boyfriend, he said he became “physically ill.”
According to reports, Howard rarely censored himself when discussing race. A federal discrimination lawsuit was previously filed by an African-American former officer.
Korone Robinson, a former narcotics investigator with the McIntosh County Sheriff’s Department, alleges he was unfairly disciplined, demoted and eventually fired after Darien police administrators learned he was dating a white colleague.
“You work in these places, you keep your head down, do your job don’t make waves,” Robinson said. “This is their world.”
A Nazi flag once hung on a wall inside police headquarters, which Howard reportedly acknowledged under oath. He also admitted to sharing a disturbing story from childhood with some of his officers.
“That story was about you putting watermelon beside the road and that you would hide and wait for the blacks to come get it and you’d shoot them with BB guns. Does that sound familiar?” asked Robinson’s attorney, Katie Mitchell.
To which the chief responded, “I was a juvenile kid.”
Robinson joined the Darien police force part-time in 2012. Within two years Robinson worked up to the department’s narcotics investigator, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He often worked alongside a new hire, Stacy Miller and they began seeing each other outside the office, and a romance bloomed.
Robinson admitted to having kept previous interracial relationships a secret, out of fear that whites in the small community would not approve. This time he informed his friend and coworker Ryan Alexander about the relationship in December 2015.
“I just wanted to let them know, because we worked so closely together,” Robinson said.
Alexander testified that he knew about their relationship months before then, and recalled telling Robinson that dating Miller was “probably a bad idea.”
“Suddenly, everything changed,” Robinson said.
Statements from two other officers in the department support Robinson’s claim. Darien Police Capt. Archie Davis testified that he noticed a difference in how Chief Howard talked about Robinson and his work ethic beginning in January 2016.
Over the next eight months, up until Robinson’s dismissal, “they put him through hell,” said Katie Mitchell, Robinson’s lawyer.
Alexander ordered Robinson and Miller not to ride in their department-issued police vehicle together, allegedly saying “it didn’t look good,” Mitchell said.
Alexander said the decision was more about policing.
“Because of their relationship … if something were to happen to where Stacy was in danger, I knew Korone would have would have done more to protect Stacy instead of handling the scene,” he said in his deposition.
The edict didn’t cover their off-duty time, yet Robinson said he was suspended for three days after driving with Miller in his police-issued vehicle to a wedding in Atlanta. He said other officers were allowed to use their vehicles for personal use, one of the few perks in a low-paying job. Howard testified that such trips had to be approved first.
Soon after Robinson’s suspension, Miller was transferred to the night shift. She subsequently lodged a grievance and has filed her own lawsuit against her former bosses.
Robinson said he was frozen out of joint drug investigations with other agencies after the relationship became public. In May 2016, he was suspended for two weeks without pay for allegedly disobeying that order after he was spotted in the staging area before a major drug sweep coordinated by the McIntosh sheriff’s office. Robinson said he was there only to check on Miller, who was involved in the investigation, and other officers on the scene backed his account.
“It was like, ‘ding, ding, ding, you big idiot, it’s because you’re black and she’s white,’” Robinson said in an interview with the AJC. Eventually he was demoted to patrol duty. He was fired in August 2016.
“He was fired for things that other officers usually weren’t even disciplined for,” said Mitchell, his attorney. The city of Darien, responding to an EEOC complaint that Robinson filed after his dismissal, said Robinson was let go for ignoring the police chief at work, failing to notify dispatchers when starting and completing his shifts, using his city vehicle for personal use and failing to file incident reports.
Each of these supposed infractions occurred in 2016, after he began dating Miller, Mitchell noted. Robinson and Miller are no longer a couple.
Robinson, 38, said he is determined to clear his name.
“When I try to tell people this story they look at me like I’m lying. It’s like I’m the big angry black guy,” he told the AJC. “It takes everything in me not to yell and scream, but I can’t do that. Not down here.”