JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has begun an internal investigation into social media posts made by a sergeant with the agency’s gang unit.
The announcement comes a day after First Coast News reported on problematic tweets from an account associated with Sgt. Douglas Howell, a ranking member of the city’s gang task force. After the story aired, the twitter account was locked.
Sheriff Pat Ivey says depending on what comes of the probe, it could result in discipline.
“We’ve had people who had a suspension or lost their job” over social media posts, Ivey told First Coast News Tuesday morning. “We can demonstrate the person is going to be held accountable.”
The tweets sparked concern both in and outside the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for espousing what some consider biased views about people of color and the LGBTQ community.
One calls an appearance by Boy and Girl Scouts at Pride parade “sick and demented.”
Another identifies “America’s Three Biggest Problems” as: “Marijuana Abuse, Marijuana Abuse and Black people.”
Several others appear to disparage the goals of racial diversity, and many espouse deeply partisan political views.
First Coast News Crime and Safety Analyst Mark Baughman reviewed the tweets and said they reflect badly on the agency.
“It’s inexcusable in any profession but especially law enforcement,” says Baughman, a retired DEA, NCIS and VICE officer who spent his professional life in the sphere of Florida law enforcement. “This takes 15 steps backwards, makes it tougher for officers who ride in those zones.”
The agency’s code of conduct specifically prohibits officers from “engaging in speech, in any form, that ridicules, maligns, disparages, or otherwise expresses bias against any race, any religion, or any protected class of individuals.”
Ivey said the review was prompted by news reports, but is not an attempt to manage appearances. “Letting the community know what’s going on doesn’t’ bother me … what’s important is that it’s targeted and taken care of.”
Official statement from Sheriff Ivey:
“The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is currently in the midst of an active administrative investigation related to multiple reports of an employee allegedly posting disparaging material on a personal social media account. As a result of the information received yesterday, I have asked that our Internal Affairs Unit look into these allegations. Detectives have begun working in their attempts to verify whether these posts are legitimate and most important, determine whether the individual responsible for the posts may be a JSO employee.
As he was identified and quoted in a recent news article, I have reached out to Bishop Rudolph McKissick. We spoke of the allegations and ensuing implications, and I assured him these allegations would be investigated to conclusion - as we have done in the past when allegations of social media violations have come to light. Our goal during the process will be to ensure a complete and accurate investigation is conducted with all available information. I want to ensure that any potential discipline levied for identified violations of policy is as inclusive as possible and that all applicable posts are captured prior to this decision being made. As such, I have reached out to the local media outlets who initially ran the story.
I have asked them to provide any information that they have in their possession, or that they receive at a later date, regarding the allegations to ensure that our agency has everything we need to complete a thorough investigation.”