Angry residents cite ‘misogyny’ in payout to Johns Creek police chief

Teenagers, people of color, and others who said they’ve experienced abuse in their lives, questioned Johns Creek City Council about the payment to former Police Chief Chris Byers.
Teenagers, people of color, and others who said they’ve experienced abuse in their lives, questioned Johns Creek City Council about the payment to former Police Chief Chris Byers.

Johns Creek residents expressed outrage Monday at a $325,000 settlement given to former Police Chief Chris Byers earlier in August.

The compensation was part of a settlement the city gave to Byers when he resigned from his position on Aug. 10 following a two-month investigation into explicit sexual remarks he made to a police department employee in December.

Teenagers, people of color, and others who said they’ve experienced abuse in their lives, questioned Johns Creek City Council about the payment during a Monday meeting. Mayor Mike Bodker and City Council members heard such words as “misogyny,” “sexist” and ‘racist” from residents who said they are upset by the former police chief’s actions and how the city managed them.

Johns Creek released documents Friday that detailed a two-month investigation into Byers concerning his sexual remarks, as well as the amount of the settlement. The investigation followed — but was unrelated to — Byers’ 1,000-word social media post in June with negative comments about the Black Lives Matter movement. Byers addressed the post on his personal Facebook page to pastors and other church leaders who he criticized for supporting the movement.

During more than an hour of comments Monday night, people of color, many from the South Asian community in Johns Creek, said they no longer feel safe in the city.

High school sophomore Sanjana Gopu, 15, was applauded after telling councilmembers Byers’ settlement sends a signal to young men that they can be rewarded for poor treatment of women and minorities.

“It’s not just about him,” she said of Byers. “It’s what it says to our community. I am 15 and I shouldn’t be here today ... I just hope all of you understand the magnitude of this issue and it doesn’t affect just him. It affects everyone around us; including me … including every woman out there; including every person of color, everyone.”

Residents accused council members of raising property taxes to pay off Byers and blamed City Manager Ed Densmore. The Johns Creek property tax rate will increase more than 12% for fiscal year 2020. Councilwoman Erin Elwood later pointed out that the increase was set in September and remains lower than other north Fulton cities. According to the city, the tax increase means a homestead property with an estimated value of $300,000 would see an increase in its annual property tax bill of about $53.

Johns Creek has not explained how they arrived at the amount for Byers’ settlement. His attorney Darryl B. Cohen told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Friday, that the settlement reflects Byers’ credible standing in the police department. The agreement was a compromise on any disputes between Byers and the city of Johns Creek, according to the language of the settlement. Byers agreed to confidentiality as well as to not sue the city unless there is a breach of the agreement.

Mayor Mike Bodker said Monday night that he would consult city attorneys and try to offer more insight into the $325,000 settlement to Byers without violating the agreement between the former chief and the city.