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Thursday, December 8, 2022

City Ordered to Reinstate Police Officer Terminated for Social Media Posts

In 2018, a city received a complaint from a local pastor about a city police officer's posting on social media of a photo of himself on social media wearing a t-shirt with the word "POLICE" and the letters "BDRT" and "Baby Daddy Removal Team" and certain posts that the pastor found derogatory to the African-American community. The posts included the officer's discussion with another individual about crimes in the south end of Peoria, including the following excerpts:

Other individual:  “This is one of the reasons we are rated 2nd in the nation as worst place for African Americans to live. Instead of investing and providing opportunity, we abandon low income areas. This will make things worse, not better. It’s really a slap in the face to those in the community.” 

            *    *     * 

Police officer: “Those in those communities need to stop killing each other, stop stealing from everyone who are trying to help them and stop using and selling drugs. They have no family base thanks to Planned Parenthood, no guidance since they have no fathers and no path since schools since they accepted Common Core and discontinued all shop classes that teach skilled labor. We are in this place because idiots voted for it. If you kept voting for Democrats and expected something different, you are the problem." 

On January 12, 2018, the police chief placed the officer on administrative leave while an internal investigation proceeded. During the investigation, the investigators uncovered other social media posts, including the following post by the police officer related to the death of Treyvon Martin:

“Treyvon made his own choice to be a thug and got himself killed. We all have choices. We can be good guys or bad guys. Treyvon chose to be a bad guy. Zimmerman is not.” 

The police department determined that the officer violated department General Orders by engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer, failing to conduct himself in a civil and professional manner, among other violations and terminated the officer. The police union then filed a grievance with the city, arguing that the termination violated the union agreement, which eventually found its way to arbitration.

The arbitrator determined that while the city had just cause to discipline (but not terminate) the officer for disclosing investigative information outside of proper police channels, the officer's social media posts did not violate city rules or regulations. The arbitrator acknowledged that the social media comments were possibly "offensive to many" but did not reference race or explicitly show racial animus. 

The city appealed, arguing that the arbitrator exceeded his authority in ordering the city to reinstate the officer and that the reinstatement violated public policy. The circuit court confirmed the arbitrator's decision, and the city appealed.

In City of Peoria v. Peoria Police Benevolent Ass'n, the Appellate Court agreed with the circuit court that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority in its ruling. The Court also rejected the city's argument that public policy prohibits reinstatement of a racist police officer. While the Court acknowledged that the social media posts were inappropriate and insensitive, as well as offensive and demeaning, it agreed with the circuit court that because the posts were not "overtly racist", they did not violate any public policy precluding reinstatement of the officer.


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