Sterling police officer on unpaid leave following Facebook post mocking Floyd’s death

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 26, 2021

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STERLING HEIGHTS — An unidentified Sterling Heights Police Department officer has resigned after a social media post mocking George Floyd’s death was reportedly put on Facebook.

On Feb. 24, the Sterling Heights Police Department acknowledged, in a statement, the existence of a “disturbing image” that was reportedly posted to an officer’s private Facebook page.

“The city of Sterling Heights disavows the abhorrent imagery and messaging that appeared in the post,” the statement said. “Immediate action was taken by the Police Chief upon learning of it, including placing the officer on unpaid administrative leave and initiating an internal disciplinary investigation.”

According to WXYZ Channel 7 Action News, the Facebook post contained an image of then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin — who has since been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter — putting his knee upon George Floyd’s neck, just before Floyd died. The image was reportedly captioned in meme format with, “when you gotta change a tire but dont (sic) wanna get your trousers dirty.”

Floyd’s May 2020 death and the way officers treated him while in custody sparked renewed outrage and protests under the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as calls for change regarding police brutality, racial inequities and the treatment of African Americans.

After Floyd’s death, Sterling Heights police Chief Dale Dwojakowski told city officials that the Police Department was pursuing diversity and inclusion efforts, as well as implicit bias training for officers. He also said the department was undergoing state accreditation through the Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Program — a long, detailed process that he said involves demonstrating compliance with rules such as the appropriate use of force.

Dwojakowski also said his department has banned choke holds and restraints like the one used on Floyd. And last fall, the City Council voted to purchase officer body cameras.

According to a Feb. 24 email from Sterling Heights police Lt. Mario Bastianelli, the Facebook incident reportedly took place while the officer was off duty.

“There will be no other information provided about this incident at this time due to an ongoing investigation,” Bastianelli said.

The city’s statement said that the Police Department planned to finish the investigation and disciplinary process as soon as possible.

“It must be clear that there is no place for hateful and offensive content like that within our community,” the city statement added. “It does a grave disservice to the City, the dedicated men and women of the Police Department who protect and serve each and every Sterling Heights resident and business, and all those who call it home.

“We remain committed to building and ensuring a tolerant and accepting city that is inclusive and safe for all.”

On March 1, the city released a second statement, announcing that the officer resigned “during the course of the Police Department’s internal investigation, and prior to disciplinary action.” The statement said the city is committed to ensuring that everyone who lives, visits or runs a business in the city feels welcome and safe.

“This incident is confirmation that the City must remain vigilant in identifying and rooting out such behavior, which has no place in a municipal organization that serves an incredibly diverse population,” the statement said.

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor declined to comment to the Sentry about the incident. Councilman Michael Radtke wrote on his councilman Facebook page Feb. 24 that the city takes the matter “very seriously and is appalled by this image.”

“Racism has no place in #SterlingHeights,” Radtke wrote. “I condemn this behavior in the strongest possible terms.”

During a Black History Month “Walking in Our Shoes” livestreamed event on Facebook Feb. 26, moderator and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist asked members of Sterling Heights African American Coalition what the consequences or risks are in not pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, measures.  

In response, coalition member John Myers III referenced the police officer’s social media incident and asked people to “look at what happened a couple of days ago here in our own city of Sterling Heights.”

“More of these situations are going to come up because they just don’t know. You can’t do that,” Myers said. “We have to educate you on how important it is to not make someone offended by such a touchy topic of the George Floyd situation.”

On March 2, Myers responded to the officer’s resignation. He told the Sentry that while the city “did a good job by saying we’re not going to tolerate this,” the city should have fired the officer instead of accepting a resignation. Myers said he doesn’t want the officer working at another police department and doesn’t want the officer to “walk away scot-free.”

Myers also said he is concerned that the city didn’t have any plan to pursue DEI initiatives prior to the Floyd situation.

“In a nutshell, sometimes people are reactive to these situations, and what happened with the George Floyd situation was very disheartening,” he said. “That is an image that I never want to put in my head again.”

The Sterling Heights Police Officers Association did not respond to a question by press time as to whether it has recommendations or guidelines for police social media use.

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