A word to any aspiring police officers: What you do and say off-duty matters. That goes for Tweets, Facebook posts, recorded conversations, media appearances and yes, even text messages. Or, so says Ohio’s Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff Phil Plummer of the MCSD released a statement on Tuesday that he’d just indefinitely suspended (well, put on paid leave) two of five deputies who’d been sending some very nasty text messages from their personal phones.
Many of the messages were directed at black officers and fellow employees, and Plummer says “The N-word was used several times as well as other racial jokes and slurs.”
Among the text messages collected by local news agency WKEF (culled from the Sheriff Department in FOIA), included these:
“I hate n*ggers. That is all.”
“What do apples and black people have in common? They both hang from trees.”
“Very simply put: They’re n*ggers, son.”
The three-month investigation started as an annymous tip in August. From there, Plummer subpeona’d the phone records (from 2011 to 2013), and consulted with the NAACP national office before going public. The two officers suspended were heavy-hitters. Captain Thomas J. Flanders runs the Montgomery County Jail, and Detective Michael J. Sollenberger is both a member of the SWAT team and works with Internal Affairs.
An employment attorney named Jason Matthews told news agency WHIO that it’s possible the men could lose their jobs.
“It is possible that somebody could lose their job because of the messages, but I think a lot of it depends on the position that they hold.”
And that position, at least in this case, comes with a few provisos in the fine print. The MCSD’s ethics code states officers must keep their
“private life unsoiled as an example to all,” and that they “will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities, or friendship to influence [their] decisions.”
So, Plummer does have a leg to stand on in terms of firing the officers. He says:
“Racism will not be tolerated in this office.”
Of interesting note is that this investigation started in August, almost immediately after the shooting of Michael Brown. And the suspensions came after news of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and everything else that’s in the news these days. One could almost read this as a, shall we say, preemptive strike against a repeat of Ferguson. Especially considering the officers suspended were in positions of great power, influence and firearms possession.
Either way, it looks like change is in the wind for racist cops…and let examples be made.