MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin deputy prison warden has been fired after posting Facebook memes comparing Muslim children to garbage and equating flying a gay pride rainbow flag with raising the Confederate flag.
Richard “Sam” Schneiter, a 42-year veteran of the Department of Corrections, was fired in November, records from the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission provided to The Associated Press reveal. Schneiter appealed his firing in December but was denied. He filed a second appeal last month and has a hearing scheduled before the commission on April 2.
That hearing will serve as a type of mini-trial where both Schneiter and the Department of Corrections can present evidence and call witnesses. The ruling from the WERC chairman can be appealed in court.
The state Department of Corrections did not immediately return messages seeking comment Friday. Schneiter, 65, had said in the summer that he intended to retire soon, but on Friday said he wants to return to work.
“If I get my job back, I’m going back to work,” he said in a brief interview. Schneiter referred other questions to his attorney, Nate Cade, who said the Department of Corrections acted improperly in firing him.
“I don’t think he’s racist and even if he’s racist he’s got First Amendment rights,” Cade said.
Schneiter was fired after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in July reported on his Facebook postings. In June, he posted a meme of two black garbage bags next to a Muslim woman and child in black burkas and a caption saying the woman had three beautiful children.
He also posted a meme contrasting the LGBTQ flag with the Confederate flag, along with the message “If they have the right to fly theirs, we deserve the right to fly ours.”
In a letter appealing his firing dated Jan. 12, Schneiter said the Department of Corrections failed to establish just cause for removing him. He said the department’s investigation into what happened was not fair, objective or thorough.
Schneiter also claimed that he was the only prison official who agreed to fly a gay-pride rainbow flag outside the Kenosha Correctional Center in June after Gov. Tony Evers declared it “Pride Month” and said the flags could be flown at state offices and buildings.
“He’s the only one who flew the damn flag,” Cade said.
In his defense, Schneiter said there was no evidence that the Facebook memes he posted represented his views. He argued they were posted to promote discussion and debate. Schneiter said he testified as part of the probe that he found the memes “objectionable and offensive.”
Over his 42-year career, “there is no evidence whatsoever” to suggest his personal views were the same as those presented in the memes, Schneiter wrote.
After the article was published, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes on Twitter criticized the meme comparing Muslims to garbage and said Schneiter is the one “who has to be taken out.” Schneiter said in his appeal that those comments amounted to a “premature conclusion” that Schneiter would be fired.
“As the second highest ranking government official in Wisconsin it is not unreasonable to believe that his comments influenced the investigators and decision-makers to a point that his comment became a prophecy fulfilled,” Schneiter wrote.
Schneiter was deputy warden for the Wisconsin Correctional Center System, a network of 14 minimum security prisons that mostly house inmates just before they are released. He has not been at work since he was fired and his appeal is pending.
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