ATLANTA — A local police officer says he hasn't worked in five months because of his beard and the department’s strict dress code policy.
Atlanta police officers have a dress code that says employees will be clean-shaven. But for some officers, especially those with coarse hair, that can cause serious problems.
"He's sent home without pay,” said attorney Rachel Berlin. She says that’s what happened when her client, APD Officer D. Jemes, refused to shave his beard.
“When he does shave, he experiences extreme bumps all over his face,” she said.
Jemes wasn't allowed to talk to Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston, but Berlin says he suffers from psuedo--folliculitis barbae, a condition where highly coarse hair grows back into the skin causing severe inflammation. Shaving makes it worse.
“Redness, pain, swelling -- it can pus up, it can bleed. It's very sensitive,” Berlin said.
But the department’s strict dress code says officers must be clean shaven, no matter what. Jemes has a doctor's note describing the condition, but when he shows up for work with his beard he's sent home.
“He doesn't have health insurance. He lost his benefits and this has been going on since April," she said.
He's filed an EEOC complaint. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology says the condition is common in about 60 percent of African-American men or people with coarse, curly hair.
Huddleston checked with barber Regnild Crittenden, who says one in five men who come in to his shop suffers from the same condition.
“It's very common in African-American men. Like I said, it is treatable, but there's no cure for it,” Crittenden said.
He says the common treatment is just not shaving.
There are other shaving products you can use, but as of now, there is no cure,” Crittenden said.
A former APD officer with the condition says he tried to follow policy, but resigned when his supervisors insisted he shave.
"I just resigned. I just couldn't take it anymore,’ said Isaiah Moody, who spent three years as an Atlanta police officer. “It’s a very painful experience. You’re actually in pain all day long.”
The skin condition is known throughout law enforcement. Cherokee County, Woodstock and Dekalb County all make exceptions for it.
Huddleston contacted the Atlanta Police Department about Jemes’ story. They said there's more to it, but couldn't comment because of possible litigation.