The San Jose Police Department has placed an officer on administrative leave and a college has dropped him as a coach after he posted Twitter messages critical of protests about police conduct and saying he had a:
“… God-given and law appointed right and duty to kill you.”
The department announced today that Officer Phillip White is on paid leave effective immediately as an investigation is conducted into his recent tweets, police spokeswoman Sgt. Heather Randol said in a statement:
“We want to first stress that we are taking the matter very seriously. … Upon receiving the information, we immediately forwarded the matter up the chain of command.”
Randol said San Jose police decided to consign White to leave from the force because it:
“… recognizes the sensitive nature of this matter.”
White is a 20-year veteran of the police department who had held a desk administrative assignment prior to his leave, Randol said in an email.
In today’s announcement, San Jose police Chief Larry Esquivel stated that:
“It is extremely important for the community to know the comments on Officer White’s private social media account do not reflect the thoughts or feelings of the men and women here at the San Jose Police Department. … Nor do we condone this type of behavior.”
White, who could not be reached for comment, recently sent a series of messages on his personal Twitter that were captured by the website buzzfeed.com before the officer deleted them along with his Twitter account.
The messages appeared to have been directed toward ongoing protest demonstrations in the Bay Area and nationwide over unarmed black men killed this year by white police officers, specifically 18-year-old Michael Brown and 43-year-old Eric Garner.
Brown was shot and killed by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9 while Garner died in Staten Island, New York, on July 17 after an officer applied a chokehold on him during an arrest.
Grand juries in both cases declined to indict the officers, triggering rallies, in which many demonstrators have been arrested, throughout many U.S. cities about alleged abuse of police powers against black men.
In one of his tweets, White wrote:
“Threaten me or my family and I will use my God-given and law appointed right and duty to kill you.”
He used the hashtag “#Copslivesmatter” for another tweet. In another tweet, he wrote:
“By the way if anyone feels they can’t breathe or their lives matter I’ll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun.”
His tweet was a reference to Garner saying “I can’t breathe” while being held in a chokehold. White also criticized members of the University of California at Berkeley’s women’s basketball team who wore T-shirts showing support for those demonstrating about the deaths of Brown and Garner.
Also Monday, Menlo College in Atherton, where White worked as an assistant basketball coach, announced on the school’s Facebook page that he would no longer be associated with the institution:
“The College will not be represented by expressions of intolerance and bigotry on the campus, on social media, or on the internet. … As the matter is under investigation by the San Jose Police Department, we are unable to offer further comments on the particulars of the situation at this time.”
The San Jose Police Officers’ Association, the union that represents police officers in negotiations for pay and benefits contracts with the city, released a statement strongly disapproving of White’s messages.
POA spokesman Tom Saggau said in the statement:
Offensive, disrespectful and inappropriate social media comments have no place in the public discourse surrounding the tragic loss of life from recent officer involved incidents. … We condemn these comments.”
San Jose mayor-elect San Liccardo, who takes office next month, also issued a response:
“What the San Jose Police Officers’ Association will remain focused on is continuing to foster a positive dialogue and positive relationships with the community we are sworn to protect and serve. … These statements understandably raise the concerns of many members of our San Jose community, and should be investigated thoroughly.”
“I have full confidence they will be. … The residents of San Jose need to know that these statements in no way reflects the fine character of our San Jose Police Department or its officers.”