Johns Creek reviews racial bias complaint against police chief, department

City Manager Ed Densmore and the city attorney are reviewing a complaint of racial discrimination made against Police Chief Mark Mitchell and the police department by resident Kirk Canaday. (Courtesy City of Johns Creek)

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City Manager Ed Densmore and the city attorney are reviewing a complaint of racial discrimination made against Police Chief Mark Mitchell and the police department by resident Kirk Canaday. (Courtesy City of Johns Creek)

A wedge has formed between a longtime Johns Creek resident and the police department. He sees racial bias; police leaders see a negative attitude.

City officials are reviewing a complaint of racial discrimination made by resident Kirk Canaday against Police Chief Mark Mitchell and the police department, Communications Director Bob Mullen said Tuesday.

Canaday emailed a letter to the city April 6 citing discrimination after Mitchell denied his reinstatement to the Citizens Auxiliary Police Services. He was a member of the group from 2013-2015 but resigned after raising concerns of racial bias under then-Police Chief Ed Densmore. Densmore is now city manager of Johns Creek, and is reviewing Canaday’s complaint along with the city attorney. City officials don’t have a completion date for the review of Canaday’s accusations, Mullen said.

The organization, also known as CAPS, is currently comprised of 18 members who are graduates of the Johns Creek Police Academy. CAPS members assist sworn police officers in directing traffic, patrolling parks, conducting residential checks and other duties. Members undergo background checks and receive 20 hours of specialized training ranging from first aid to defense tactics, Mullen said.

Of the 18 current members, nine are white, seven are Asian, one is Hispanic and one is Black, Mullen said via email.

Canaday, 76, is a longtime resident and well known by officials for his activities in Johns Creek with civic and service organizations, including working to refurbish gravesites at Macedonia African Methodist Church Cemetery.

He’s been accepted to other police citizen programs in recent years. A May 2021 letter from the U.S. Justice Department congratulated Canaday on graduating from the FBI Citizens Academy Program. And he’s a 2018 graduate of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office Citizens Academy class.

“I support the police and want to give back to my community,” Canaday said of wanting to rejoin Johns Creek’s Citizens Auxiliary Police Services.

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Kirk Canaday is a member of the Johns Creek Historical Society and has urged city officials to preserve historically Black Macedonia Cemetery. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Kirk Canaday is a member of the Johns Creek Historical Society and has urged city officials to preserve historically Black Macedonia Cemetery. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

caption arrowCaption
Kirk Canaday is a member of the Johns Creek Historical Society and has urged city officials to preserve historically Black Macedonia Cemetery. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Canaday said Mitchell informed him during a phone call that he wasn’t approved to be a member again but the only reasoning the police chief gave was that he’s “unsuitable.”

Mitchell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday that his decision to not approve Canaday’s reinstatement was not personal or biased but based on the recommendation of current CAPS members and police officers asked to advise on the matter. They believed Canaday has a negative view of the police department based on prior experience with him in the service group, Mitchell said.

“This is a very diverse city looking to build relationships, to build trust,” Mitchell said. “We want positive voices for the department ... not us vs. them.”

In documents obtained by the AJC through an open records request, Johns Creek police Lt. Debra Kalish recommended denying Canaday’s return to CAPS. In a document dated in February, she said that during Canaday’s first stint with the organization he went outside the chain of command by sending emails with his take on how to fix processes that he thought went awry while working at events.

A CAPS member said Canaday’s physical presence in a February interview was discomforting and referred to his posture, demeanor and shifting in his seat.

Other members said he brought up racial concerns too frequently when he was a CAPS member.

Another person said that if Canaday was reinstated, “He needs to stay in balance with Black Lives Matter. If he does not, he will alienate himself from everyone else including me and he will not be of much value to the program.”

Canaday said he believes the reason he did not receive a recommendation dates back to his former time as a CAPS member when he took issue with a class exercise that showed Black criminals. He spoke up at the time, saying he was worried about police reinforcing stereotypical impressions of race, Canaday told the AJC.

Canaday said that he reported to police in 2015 that while he was in a CAPS uniform he was approached by a sworn officer in a threatening manner and nearly assaulted in the parking lot outside police headquarters. The officer was asked about the incident two months ago and didn’t recall it, according to documents reviewing Canaday’s reinstatement.

Former City Councilman Brian Weaver, who is Black and a retired senior commander with the Johns Creek Police Department, says Canaday would be an asset to CAPS.

Weaver said challenging ideas that make some people uncomfortable doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

“If he has a question or concern, someone else in the community might have a question also,” Weaver said. “He’s trying to make the community better. The experience he’s bringing to the table should be applauded.”

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