Local News

Durham police: Claims of racial slurs on Facebook unsubstantiated

Posted December 12, 2008 12:47 p.m. EST
Updated December 12, 2008 6:24 p.m. EST

— Durham police internal investigators have not substantiated claims that three officers made racial slurs in comments on their personal Facebook pages shortly after President-elect Barack Obama's win Nov. 4, the department announced Friday.

One officer was disciplined for conduct unbecoming police department personnel, responsibility to respect the rights of others and use of discriminatory jokes and slurs.

Investigators cleared a second officer of any wrongdoing. The investigation into allegations against a third officer continues, but investigators said those claims have not been substantiated so far.

Police said the investigation, complaints and comments were the products of a politically charged environment after the presidential election.

"When people's emotions run high they tend to say things they that they probably would not say. And they tend to react to things a little bit differently than they would under normal circumstances," Deputy Chief R.H. Hodge said.

The department launched an internal investigation Nov. 7 after another officer complained about comments on the Facebook page of the officer who was disciplined. Police initially said the comments were posted on MySpace.

The comments included "[the officer] is preparing for his 2nd dan" and "[the officer] realizes that this is what we get for passing the 14th Amendment."

However, investigators determined that "dan" is a martial-arts term describing a level of proficiency. The officer was involved in martial arts.

Investigators said the officer also meant to refer to the 19th Amendment – which gives women the right to vote – instead of the 14th Amendment – which guarantees equal protection to all Americans and was used to secure the rights of freedmen after the Civil War. The officer changed his comment to reflect that, police said.

The officer mentioned the 19th Amendment to tease his fiancee, a first-time voter, in a pre-election discussion, investigators said.

The officer did violate department policy by identifying himself as a Durham police officer on Facebook, Hodge said.

"The officer has cooperated completely with our investigation and made his Facebook page available to the department throughout the investigation. He has since taken down the Web page," Chief Jose L. Lopez said.

The officer has apologized for any harm he inadvertently caused the department and community, police said. He agreed to share information about a personnel matter to dispel rumors and misinformation.

The Durham chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had demanded more information about the case be released, charging that public trust in the department has been hurt.

Fred Foster, the chapter's president, declined comment until he could examine the information released Friday.

"We take very seriously any activity by a police officer that has the potential to create a weakening of public confidence in this organization, and that is why we felt it was necessary to thoroughly investigate these allegations and take action where necessary," Lopez said.

The department will provide more training to officers about inappropriate Internet usage under the force's code of conduct, police said.