A Pacific Grove police officer placed on administrative leave for allegedly posting racist comments on social media is no longer employed at the department. It marked the second time he was investigated and put on administrative leave within the past eight months.
Last summer, a complaint was sent to Pacific Grove Police Chief Cathy Madalone concerning stickers on the officer's personal truck. (The department is not naming the officer because of a law that protects his privacy). The truck was parked in public view at the police department.
One of the stickers promoted the Three Percenters, a group that has been described as a far-right militia group. Another allegedly mocked members of the LGBTQ community. Chief Madalone began an investigation.
“It was very disturbing,” she said. “I took immediate action and the officer was put on administrative leave.”
An outside firm investigated and the leave concluded with an apology from the officer who removed the stickers. He was allowed to return to work.
Then, in the fall, it was discovered the same officer was allegedly posting hateful messages on the social media app Parler, which is often used by members of extremist groups. The messages read, “F*ck Black Lives Matter” and featured the Black Lives Matter logo with the words “Hate Group” over it.
The officer was investigated again and put on administrative leave for a second time.
Meanwhile, a group of community members were organizing. They created a website called PG City Watch with an online petition demanding the officer be fired. More than 2,100 people signed it.
Community members also spoke up at city council meetings. At a mid-December meeting, 19 people lined up to share their thoughts, including Nathaniel Sawyer.
“I'm African-American,” said Sawyer. “A law enforcement officer is supposed to serve and protect. They should be the ones who protect what they say on social media because it can have repercussions.”
“My heritage is black and Russian,” said Nadja Mark. “We can’t change the fact that some of us minorities are a little bit traumatized and terrified by this.”
But the officer also had supporters.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon in December, two dozen of them gathered outside the Pacific Grove Police Department. They carried signs that read, “Freedom of Speech” and “Back the Blue.”
Lyle Skeen organized the rally. He is behind the pro-police Facebook page MC Blue and he’s a candidate for Monterey County’s Republican Central Committee.
Skeen says he knows the officer and said the officer was just expressing his first amendment views.
“He did not say these things while in uniform while on the clock,” Skeen said. “He didn't put bumper stickers on a patrol car. It was all his personal property and his personal social media.”
According to Skeen, the officer was given a choice - resign with the possibility of removing the disciplinary actions from his record or be fired. Skeen said he chose the latter.
The Pacific Grove Police Department is not detailing how he left. Chief Madalone made the announcement about his departure in a YouTube video Wednesday.
“I understand you would like to have more details and, trust me, I would like to provide them to you. But based on the law, I am prohibited from commenting any further on this personal matter,” Madalone said.
Greg Woods, a professor of Justice Studies at San Jose State University, said historically, terminating police officers was difficult in California. Police unions are strong and there is a statewide Police Officer Bill of Rights. But Woods said more officers are being held accountable with a new lens on civil rights.
“We're seeing it happen more and more these days, particularly as it relates to biased, racist, bigoted behavior that has demonstrated both on duty and off duty,” Woods said.
Woods added that if an officer is terminated under those conditions, it is unlikely they will be able to find a job with another police department in the state.