A Seattle police officer has been fired after an internal investigation found he violated the department’s social media policy by posting profane and politically charged comments on Instagram, including rants against “illegal immigration” and a post that “appeared to endorse violence” against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.
The officer, who has not been identified by name, was terminated after admitting that his statements on Instagram “negatively impacted the Department’s ability to serve the public, as well as that the postings were unprofessional,” according to a case summary posted this week on the website of the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) and first reported on by the Seattle Patch news site.
The internal investigation was opened in 2018 and findings were issued to Chief Carmen Best in November. It is not clear when Best terminated the officer.
The investigation was opened after an acquaintance of the officer complained anonymously about social media posts that “attacked[ed] certain groups of peoples … [and] people’s political views.” The anonymous complainant found several of the posts “unprofessional” and worried that multiple hashtag alerts used in the posts, including #maga and #trump2020, could give his “inappropriate posts” a wide audience, the OPA’s report said.
According to the case summary, the officer used “extremely profane language” in the posts, which were made under the Instagram username @officerdg. An account using that name is set to private. Its operator did not immediately respond to a Seattle Times request for access.
The OPA document did not identify the terminated officer. Seattle Police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said he expects the department will release additional details, likely including the officer’s name, on Friday.
According to the OPA summary of the incident, an investigator who viewed the terminated officer’s Instagram page was met with a post showing a photograph of a package bomb and the message: “I don’t condone sending package bombs but god it would be nice for Killary and Anti-cop Obama to finally STFU! Maybe Obama will stop lying and claiming the good economy is from him.”
Another post includes a photo of the officer raising the middle finger to the camera. The text underneath states, “If you support illegal immigrants coming into our country so much then make a difference and bring them into your home and YOU support them you (expletive),” according to OPA documents.
During an interview with OPA investigators, the officer acknowledged his posts undermined the department’s ability to serve the public “due to the fact that he appeared to endorse violence against political figures in one posting and, in the other, engaged in a profanity laced critique both of ‘illegal immigration’ and of those individuals who may support a different political position on this issue than he holds,” in violation of SPD policy, according to the case summary.
“He told OPA that, in hindsight, he would not have made the postings,” according to the case summary.
The OPA investigation stopped short of finding that the officer engaged in biased policing against any group or individual, but it sustained findings that he violated the department’s social media policy and acted unprofessionally by identifying himself as a police officer while engaged in profane criticism of individuals who hold different political views.
“Certainly an officer can have and express strong feelings concerning the immigration debate that is raging in this country without acting contrary to policy or engaging in bias,” wrote OPA Director Andrew Myerberg in the case findings. “Moreover, it is not and cannot be a policy violation for an officer to hold political views that may be out of line with those possessed by the majority of the community members and political figures in the city where that officer serves.
“However, based on the tenor of and the vitriol contain in [the terminated officer’s] postings, OPA questions whether [the officer] is so averse to ‘illegal immigration’ that he would be unable to provide law enforcement services equitably and completely to an undocumented individual,” the summary stated. That would violate the department’s biased-policing policy.
The emergence of social media and its impact on the department and public perception were recognized by former Police Chief Katherine O’Toole, who in 2015 implemented tough new policies for officers who venture into the virtual social milieu.