SPRINGFIELD, MA — A city police officer has been fired after igniting controversy with social media comments that mocked people run down by a car during an anti-racism protest.
Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri announced Friday that he dismissed Conrad Lariviere for conduct that “discredited the department.”
Mayor Domenic Sarno also issued a statement that he is in full support of Barbieri’s decision.
Officials with the police union, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 364, could not be reached for comment.
Lariviere brought national scrutiny on himself and the Springfield Police Department Aug. 12 when he posted inflammatory comments on his personal Facebook page.
In response to an article about a car driven by a suspected neo-Nazi through a crowd of demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, Lariviere wrote, “Hahahaha love this. Maybe people shouldn’t block roadways.”
Dozens were injured and one person, Heather Heyer, was killed. The driver, James Alex Field, is charged with second-degree murder.
When someone called him on his remark, Lariviere identified himself as a police officer and said his critics “live in a fantasy land with the rest of America while I deal with the real danger.”
The remark triggered outrage across the country, and thousands signed a petition calling for Lariviere to be fired.
Although Lariviere quickly apologized, Sarno, city councilors and the local chapter of the NAACP all criticized his comment. Lariviere, a three-year veteran of the department, was immediately removed from the street and assigned to internal duties.
Barbieri, in a brief statement, said he reached his decision after the Community Police Hearing Board reviewed Lariviere’s case Nov. 21.
“The Community Police Review Board determined that Officer Lariviere was in violation of Springfield Police Department rules, regulations and policies,” Barbieri said. “It was determined that Officer Lariviere impaired the operation of the Springfield Police Department or its employees and discredited the department.”
The board, made of members appointed by the mayor, reviews complaints against the department but is not authorized to make disciplinary recommendations.
After speaking with the Office of Labor Relations, Barbieri made the decision to terminate Lariviere’s employment, he said.
“I stand by and agree with Commissioner Barbieri’s decision to fire Officer Conrad Lariviere over his insensitive and uncalled for Facebook remarks,” Sarno said. “While this is not an overall reflection of our men and women in blue, who serve with honor, courage and compassion, this just decision sends a strong message that these actions will not be tolerated.”
The decision was reached Wednesday but the news was withheld until Friday morning, presumably not to take away from the department celebration on Thursday of the appointment of 40 new police officers.
“You are going to be held to the highest standard,” Barbieri told the new officers during a pinning ceremony. “You will be judged for what you do on duty and what you do off duty.”
At the time Lariviere made his controversial post, Springfield police had no formal policy regarding social media use. In the days following, Sarno issued a social media etiquette policy, but that governs only non-union employees.
The police department had been working on a formal policy before any of this happened, but it had not been enacted at the time. The department does have existing rules and policies outlining conduct unbecoming an officer, covering both on- and off-duty behavior.
The dismissal of Lariviere may raise eyebrows in light of the handling of another Springfield officer who has generated controversy, Gregg Bigda.
A one-time narcotics officer, Bigda in 2016 was recorded on video in the Palmer police station threatening to assault and to plant drugs on a juvenile suspected of stealing a Springfield police car. The distribution of that video led to a number of drug cases being dismissed because Bidga was an investigating officer.
He was suspended for 60 days and reassigned to the records bureau, but remains on the payroll.
Barbieri has said that he was unable to fire Bigda because the video did not come to light within the department until after a 90-day window, required under the union contract for filing disciplinary actions, had passed. The incident happened in February 2016; Barbieri learned of it and ordered an internal investigation in July of that year.
Barbieri has said he opted not to fire Bigda because to do so would invite a costly civil service appeal that probably would have returned Bigda to duty.