Salem Police Officer Demoted Over Tweet

SALEM, MA — The Salem police captain who used the department’s official Twitter account to post a comment comparing protests over the killing of George Floyd to dining out has been demoted two ranks, to sergeant, among several disciplinary measures announced Wednesday.

Kate Stephens also wrote a letter of apology to the community, which Salem police Chief Mary Butler released Wednesday morning. Butler said the post was derisive and undermined the public’s confidence in police.

“I would like to apologize to the community,” said Stephens in a written apology. “I absolutely believe and will defend everyone’s right to peacefully protest and exercise their First Amendment rights. I am so sorry for this mistake.”

Stephens said her post was intended for her personal account, and was an expression of frustration about COVID-19 restrictions. However, she acknowledged that, “Even on my personal Twitter account this message would have been inappropriate.”

She said she did not intend the post to denigrate protesters.

But the tweet was seen that way by many, including the chief.

“(S)o you issued a permit for 10 of thousands of people to protest but I can’t go to a restaurant? You are ridiculous. You and Too Tall Deval are killing this State,” the June 1 tweet read.

“Too Tall Deval” is a reference to Gov. Charlie Baker, used by conservative commentators to compare the moderate Baker with his more liberal predecessor, Deval Patrick, a Black man. The tweet was addressed to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

Frank Robinson, who led a protest last weekend on Salem Common, called the decision to demote Stephens “appropriate,” though he knows many were calling for her firing.

“My hope is that this promotes a culture of accountability within the department, and not only when so many people are watching.”

The demotion to sergeant will cost Stephens 20% of her base salary.

Butler said the demotion by two ranks is the first in the department’s recent history. Stephens agreed not to appeal the discipline and has also assented to a “last chance” agreement.

She has also been replaced as the department’s executive officer, will have no role and command and policy oversight and authority, and no longer has access to the department’s social media accounts.

“While this is the first such incident in her record, Stephens has acknowledged that her conduct was inconsistent with her responsibilities as a Captain of the Salem Police Department,” said Butler in a press release announcing the decision.

Stephens has also agreed to work on repairing her relationship with the community through in-person meetings and with taking part in additional training, said the chief.

“Sergeant Stephens’ actions were unacceptable, and she has acknowledged that,” said Butler. “However, that alone is not sufficient. Therefore, she agreed to the demotion, and last chance provision.”

“As police officers, we are — rightly — held to a higher standard of conduct,” the chief continued. “Sgt. Stephens’ words undermined confidence in not just her, but in the entire department. The men and women of the Salem Police Department are committed to rebuilding trust between the department and every member of the community whom we serve and protect.

“Sgt. Stephens’ opinion was not the opinion of the department, nor is it reflective of the core value policing, as every resident has the freedom to exercise their rights free of antagonism, most especially from the government itself, but even more importantly, to be heard,” said the chief.

Stephens said she removed the tweet as soon as she realized her mistake and told the chief herself what had happened.

“I have accepted the discipline imposed by the Chief of Police and take full responsibility for the unintended consequences of my mistake,” Stephens wrote.

“The Salem Police Superior Officers Association acknowledges the negative impact the tweet caused with members of our community,” said Lt. David M. Tucker, president of the union. “We also recognize that action needed to be taken to restore confidence of the community in the police department.”

Tucker said the union was pleased that Stephens was able to stay with the department, citing other achievements by Stephens, but also acknowledged that the tweet “diminished those in our community who were voicing the need for change.”

From The Salem News