ARROYO GRANDE, CA — The Arroyo Grande Police Department is investigating one of its sergeants for a social media post calling the Black Lives Matter movement “worthless” and advocating violence against protesters.
The personnel action comes just weeks after the city pledged to include groups that support the BLM movement in its selection of a new police chief.
In the post on Facebook, police Sgt. Shane Day shared an out-of-area video that shows a large group of so-called “patriots” engaging in mutual hand-to-hand street combat with another group labeled as “antifa bitches.”
The heavily edited video from the Facebook page Make & Keep America Great appears to be variation of another video shared over YouTube and supposedly taken in June during civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. It emphasizes in slow-motion members of the “patriot” side of the clash knocking down antifa, or anti-fascist, protesters.
The soundtrack: Toby Keith’s “Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American).”
“This is what will happen when s—t really hits the fan and the worthless (Black Lives Matter) and antifa actually come face to face with true reall (sic) americans!!!!” the post written by Day reads.
A screen grab of Day’s private social media post obtained by The Tribune does not show when he made it, but the video he shared was posted July 5.
That was a month to the day after citizens armed with tactical rifles took to the rooftops of The Pit martial arts gym and a neighboring business as a group of a few hundred people marched down Grand Avenue in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Pit’s owner later took to social media to claim the men were protecting the businesses despite the peaceful nature of the march, which included senior citizens and children.
Residents spoke out over the incident, sparking city officials to immediately put into practice a new police hiring and training regimen, among a host of other significant changes.
But that wasn’t Day’s only questionable post.
The Tribune found and received several other far-right posts, including one in April in which he shared someone else’s photo of an arrangement of three tactical rifles and six handguns fitted with suppressors to spell out “Trump.”
“Feeling cute, might piss off a liberal later … idk,” the post Day shared reads, adding a white guy shrug emoji.
Day did not respond to a request for comment.
Day was one of five sergeants at the department as of January, when according to deputy acting city manager Whitney McDonald, he was placed on leave for reasons the city can’t disclose because of personnel confidentiality laws.
Police Chief Mike Martinez told The Tribune he was aware of the issue and an internal investigation began once it was brought to his attention.
“However, because this is a personnel issue, I cannot discuss the details of the investigation or the course of action,” Martinez, who was promoted to chief in July, wrote in an email.
Martinez referred to the city’s policy on employee social media use, which says public employees occupy a trusted position in the community, and therefore their statements “have the potential to contravene the policies and performance of this department.”
“Due to the nature of the work and influence associated with the law enforcement profession, it is necessary that employees of this department be subject to certain reasonable limitations on their speech and expression,” the policy guide reads. “To achieve its mission and efficiently provide service to the public, the Arroyo Grande Police Department will carefully balance the individual employee’s rights against the department’s needs and interests when exercising a reasonable degree of control over its employees’ speech and expression.”
Namely, the city policy prohibits statements “that indicate disregard for the law or the state or U.S. Constitution,” and states that officers should consider whether the online speech would be “contrary to the good order” of the department or would reflect unfavorably on the department.
CITY ACKNOWLEDGES SYSTEMIC RACISM ‘DOES EXIST’
McDonald said Thursday that the city immediately began investigating the matter after it was brought to the city’s attention by a Facebook post from Tribune contributor Tom Fulks.
Fulks began looking into the matter after the posts, including some from another Arroyo Grande officer who left the department two years ago, were shared by users on Facebook.
“We understand (the posts) are concerning and we are taking them seriously because the indication that we have police officers who believe that people who support Black Lives Matter don’t deserve protection is a significant concern,” McDonald said. “We want all people to feel safe here and rely on our Police Department — this movement is putting the spotlight on the fact that people don’t feel that way, and it’s incumbent upon us to take up that call to action and make sure we’re being part of the solution.”
McDonald said the city has taken the stance that systemic racism does exist in San Luis Obispo County, even though other officials such as county Sheriff Ian Parkinson have denied that it is a problem on the Central Coast.
“Systemic racism does exist, and anything our staff may be doing to indicate otherwise … is not consistent with our values as a city,” she said.
She added that Day case was “a complex situation” due to the status of his employment at the time the posts came to the city’s attention.
McDonald said that while the internal investigation plays out, city staff will be looking into the social media policy and determine whether it needs to be broadened, with input from the local labor council and the city’s insurance provider.
At a time when police and sheriff’s departments across the nation are being scrutinized for alleged misinformation and bias in information released through their official social media accounts, questionable social media activities of individual officers have also led to dozens of firings.
Last year, The Plain View Project examined the public profiles of police officers from eight jurisdictions, the findings of which were detailed in an investigative report published jointly by Injustice Watch and BuzzFeed News.
In Philadelphia alone, 328 officers were identified by the project to have posted hateful content including memes that read “Death to Islam,” referred to black people as “thugs,” and shared homophobic memes that encouraged violence.
The report resulted in the firing of 13 officers, identified as the worst offenders, in Philadelphia.