Residents criticize Middletown officials for response to police officer’s social media photos

Middletown police cruiser

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Middletown police cruiser

Middletown City Council heard from residents who defended a city police officer who was investigated and cleared last month of posting social media photos displaying a hand sign.

The issue was raised at the Feb. 2 council meeting where the Rev. Dr. Celeste Didlick-Davis, president of the Middletown Area NAACP unit, raised concerns with council after learning about the social media photos. In the photos, the officer is displaying a hand sign used a children’s game but that has also been used to support white supremacy.

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 Journal-News is not identifying the officer as the complaint was ruled unfounded and no discipline was imposed following an internal investigation. He remains on active duty status. The photos were removed from the officer’s personal social media page.

ExplorePolice: NAACP concerns about Middletown officer’s social media posts ‘unfounded’

Kent Keller II pointed his finger and raised his voice at City Manager Jim Palenick about a video Palenick and police Chief David Birk made and posted online two weeks ago.

Keller II said “a couple of people apparently dug through the Facebook page of a good officer who happened to be a Trump supporter” and found he played the “circle game” and “blew into something it’s not.”

“I’ve been in this city for 42 years. Don’t you dare come into this city and start dividing and playing games,” he said.

ExploreMiddletown NAACP raises concern over police officer’s social media photos

Pastor Lamar Ferrell of Berachah Church and a volunteer police chaplain, said he has known the officer for 16 years. He said the officer was once in a fight with a white supremist and the officer sustained broken bones in the face while trying to help a woman of color.

He questioned why any organization “would attack those protect us and serve us.” Ferrell said the Division of Police has carried itself with dignity through troubled times, even in areas of race.

Ferrell added that one of the “A”s in NAACP stands for advancement.

“Let’s advance and move forward,” he said.

Councilwoman Ami Vitori said the issue “snowballed” before the city released the video.

“Our responsibility was to talk to the officer and give him the opportunity to clear his name, which is what we did,” she said. “I think the video was used to communicate that we heard the people’s concerns.”

Didlick-Davis said, “All we asked was for the city to investigate, We’re satisfied with the investigation. If they think we were attacking the officer, then they need to work on their listening skills.”

“I have a right to ask questions and he has right to do his thing,” she said. “People need to stop personalizing thing and need to stop talking at one another and start talking to each other.”

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