Crime & Courts

N.C. officers disciplined for Facebook comments

DURHAM - Police administrators disciplined one officer and cleared another of the three accused several weeks ago of posting derogatory comments about President-elect Barack Obama on their personal Facebook pages.

Police issued their findings this afternoon of an internal investigation.

The names of the officers were not released.

On Nov. 7, the Durham police department began an internal investigation in allegations that three officers had made offensive comments on their Facebook pages. Investigators from the department’s Internal Affairs Unit quickly cleared one officer of any wrongdoing.

Claims against a second officer have been unsubstantiated, according to a release sent out this afternoon by police spokeswoman Kammie Michael. But an investigation is ongoing.

In their inquiry into the third officer, investigators found that he had violated department rules and regulations and engaged in conduct unbecoming to police department personnel. But the investigators determined that no racial slurs had been made intentionally.

On the officer's Facebook page were comments about the officer “preparing for his 2nd dan” and “realizes that this is what we get for passing the 14th Amendment,” which refers to equal protection under the law for all people.

The investigation, according to the release sent this afternoon, revealed that the officer meant to refer to the 19th Amendment, which gives women the right to vote, not the 14th, because he was teasing his fiancée in response to a comment she had made about voting procedures prior to the election.

The officer, according to Michael’s release, subsequently corrected the error about the Amendment number on his Web page.

Several officers told investigators they believed that the term "dan" was a racial slur, the release states. But further investigation proved that “dan” is a martial arts term used to describe a degree of proficiency, according to the police findings. Investigators verified that the officer did have a first-degree dan in martial arts and was preparing to be tested for his second-degree dan, which he recently obtained.

The investigation also indicated that none of the comments in question were made on a city computer or while the officer was on duty.

However, Police Chief Jose L. Lopez Sr. said the officer did identify himself on his social networking Web page as a Durham police officer and therefore his actions were subject to department rules and regulations.

The officer has apologized for any perceived harm he inadvertently caused the department and community, according to Michael’s release.

"The officer has cooperated completely with our investigation and made his Facebook page available to the department throughout the investigation,” Lopez said adding tthat the Web page has since been taken down.

"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.

As a result, the department will provide training to its officers about the ramifications of inappropriate Internet use as it relates to the department's code of conduct.