A Middletown police officer who was at the center of concerns by the local NAACP unit for posting social media photos displaying a hand sign that has been co-opted into a hate or white supremist gesture was cleared by an internal police investigation.
In two photos, the officer is making a gesture in the shape of an “OK” sign — with the thumb and index finder in a circle and other fingers straight — which some have used as a symbol of white supremacy.
The officer remains on active duty status. The photos were immediately removed from the officer’s personal social media page.
According to the report filed by Sgt. Malcolm Tipton, the officer said he was off-duty time on Jan. 23 and was at a bar with friends and family. They had taken a group photo in which he made the gesture “the symbol of ‘got you’ game or the circle game in the photo.” He said he had played that game since he was in Junior High and “we were playing the game at the bar.”
He said he was unaware that the symbol had any racist/hate meaning, according to the investigation report dated Jan. 30.
“These photos appear to be with friends and family and in good nature. The photos alone do not constitute a violation of any policy or procedure set forth by the Middletown Division of Police,” Tipton said. “I recommend that this complaint be classified as ‘Unfounded.’”
Maj. Andy Warrick, deputy chief/patrol commander, agreed and added, “we must be aware of how society that is ever changing may perceive certain information or actions, especially in our community.”
The Journal-News reviewed the officer’s personnel file. He joined MPD on Nov. 27, 2007 and over his career had received two written reprimands, multiple awards and commendations. His evaluation ratings met or exceeded standards.
The issue was made public at Tuesday’s Middletown City Council meeting after the Rev. Dr. Celeste Didlick-Davis, Middletown Area NAACP president, presented copies of thephotos. On Tuesday, Didlick-Davis didn’t want to infringe on the officer’s rights of expression but called the photos “disturbing” and said some residents were upset and concerned.
City Manager Jim Palenick and Police Chief David Birk issued a public statement and made a short video to inform the community of the matter.
The city said, “As an organization we have made it clear to our employees that we will not tolerate the expression of racial intolerance, divisiveness or hate, including the use or transmission of symbols associated therewith.”
On Friday, Didlick-Davis said she was glad the city released the officer’s personnel file to the Journal-News.
She said the NAACP is seeking a better relationship and increased cultural competency from the city generally and the MPD, in particular for a variety of reasons.
She said the NAACP seeks increased transparency, better communication and a series of meaningful dialogues so that there is more balance and trust.
“The concerns of citizens from all over the city must be taken seriously and we must work to see each situation from more than one perspective,” Didlick-Davis said.
The city and NAACP are scheduled to meet next week.
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