Facebook flap continues
Officer’s postings, councilmember’s concerns lead to investigation
The Chico Police Department’s Police Community Advisory Board met on Nov. 20 for the first time since City Councilman Randall Stone made public some controversial Facebook postings by Chico Police Officer Todd Boothe.
The postings—which Stone sent to local media along with a copy of a correspondence with Police Chief Kirk Trostle asking for an investigation—as well as Stone’s actions have created quite a stir, and brought about public criticism of both men. Boothe’s Facebook images, most of which were posted in 2009, have been labeled as racist and Stone has been accused of trying to violate the officer’s right to freedom of speech.
According to its own definition, the advisory board “is designed to be a link between the community and its police department to facilitate and enhance communication between the two.” At the latest meeting, Chico Police Capt. Ford Porter described the department’s complaint process. He said that citizens who come into the station to report incidents first contact the records clerk, who in turn contacts a sergeant to find out what the complaint is about.
The sergeant asks what the citizen would like done, including the filing of a formal complaint, in which case the chief assigns an investigator. The officer is notified of the pending investigation. A report that can run from 20 to 100 pages is written by the investigator and given to the chief for his consideration. The person who made the complaint is notified, but the state penal code limits the release of information.
If it is deemed that an attorney is needed to defend the officer, one is hired from a law firm that is retained by the CPOA and paid for with a fee that comes out of the union members’ paychecks, Porter said.
“If an officer needs an attorney, they get one from our legal firm,” Porter said. “It gets very complex.”
He said officers are protected by the Police Officers Bill of Rights, which stems from a state law passed in 1976.
Those rights include the following provision: “Except as otherwise provided by law, or whenever on duty or in uniform, no public safety officer shall be prohibited from engaging, or be coerced or required to engage, in political activity.”
However, the CPD’s own policy manual does prohibit certain forms of expression: “Speech or expression that, while not made pursuant to an official duty, is significantly linked to, or related to, the Chico Police Department and tends to compromise or damage the mission, function, reputation or professionalism of the Chico Police Department.”
Further, as it relates to privacy, “Employees forfeit any expectation of privacy with regard to anything published or maintained through file-sharing software or any Internet site open to public view (e.g., Facebook, MySpace).”
The story was first carried by Action News Now on Monday, Nov. 11, one day after Stone had notified the media. The station showed blurred-out versions of the controversial images.
Trostle has confirmed that there is an internal investigation underway, but otherwise cannot comment on the matter. In fact, at the Nov. 20 meeting, which just happened to be about the Chico Police complaint-process policy, board member Ryan Patten opened matters by saying, “Randall Stone is not an issue that will be discussed tonight.”
Stone, who sits on the board, was not in attendance because of a scheduling conflict.
In his email to Trostle and the media, Stone included five images captured from Boothe’s Facebook page. Two of them are of President Obama, one in which his face is Photoshopped onto the body of what appears to be a witch doctor, complete with a bone through his nose, along with the words ‘Obamacare: Coming soon to a clinic near you.’”
That photo was first circulated in 2009 and was associated with tea party members protesting the president’s health-care reform via emails, websites and demonstrations.
Dr. David McKalip, a Florida neurosurgeon and health-care-plan opponent apologized in July 2009 for emailing the photo and resigned as president of the Pinellas County Medical Association, according to a story in the Tampa Bay Times. “I genuinely regret the decision I made in passing this email message along,” McKalip said in his apology. “Directly to President Obama, I sincerely apologize for offending him. This was, in no way whatsoever, my intention. The image has nothing to do with my feelings or thoughts on any race or culture.”
The other images that Stone shared were of Obama in white-face makeup, depicted as the Joker character from Batman with the word “Socialism” beneath it, and a skull draped in the Confederate flag with the words “Rebel ’Till The Day I Die.” There is also a photo of a man with a Mohawk haircut apparently passed out on a couch next to a nearly empty bottle of Captain Morgan Rum sitting on a coffee table. The photo was posted in 2009 and the screen capture is of comments made three years later, including Boothe’s response to a Facebook friend: “Youre [sic] a fag Scott.”
In his email to Trostle, Stone wrote: “[I]t is my concern that this perspective has transcended free speech and become a procedural issue (job performance). I originally stumbled across Officer Boothe’s Facebook page early Tuesday morning after he posted a profane comment to my public Facebook page (nonthreatening, but very public).
“The comment was well within his purview as a private citizen and within his free-speech rights. It was not received as threatening nor could anyone reasonably conclude that it was threatening.”
Boothe called the councilman “incompetent” and an “asshole” on one of Stone’s Facebook pages and criticized the council as well. All this comes as the city and the police union are in contract negotiations.
Peter Durfee, president of the Chico Police Officers’ Association, came to Boothe’s defense the day after the story broke and held a press conference on the steps of the City Council chambers.
Durfee said Stone was retaliating because his feelings were hurt by Boothe’s comment.
“Stone alleges that photographs on Todd’s private Facebook page are racist, when in all actuality they are political satire,” he said. “Councilman Stone had to go out of his way to locate these photographs by not only going to Todd’s private page, but if you notice in the corner of the photographs the icon indicates they were only allowed to be seen by Todd’s friends only. Councilmember Stone is not one of Todd’s Facebook friends.” (The Confederate flag image was public.)
At the Nov. 19 City Council meeting, Durfee called for Stone to step down from the Police Community Advisory Board. Stone, in the meantime, said that because of what he called “an expansion in scope of the investigation,” he cannot comment on the issue.