A Front Royal police officer has received punitive and corrective disciplinary action after an investigation into “concerning” social media posts by the officer.
The officer has been on paid administrative leave after the department was made aware of the “concerning” social media posts on Nov. 11, Chief of Police Kerry Magalis said. The officer is expected to return to full time duty on Dec. 7, Magalis said.
Capt. Crystal Cline, the department's public information officer, declined to provide examples of the social media posts, citing they are part of a personnel matter.
“These comments do not represent the views of the Town of Front Royal or our police department,” Magalis read in a public statement to the Town Council on Monday night during its regular meeting. “Our mission remains to safeguard the lives of ALL members of our community.”
A “thorough investigation" by the Internal Affairs Division was conducted and vetted by a third party, Magalis said. The third-party was legal counsel obtained specifically for this incident, Magalis said. Constitutional issues, state code procedure, employment and HR law had to be considered in making the decision, Magalis said, while thanking the council for its patience in making the decision on the matter.
It was determined that the public information chapter of the department’s general orders were violated, specifically on section “D.3 Department Sanctioned Use” and section “E. Personal Use/Off Duty Conduct,” Magalis said.
“Again, we take this very seriously and do not condone the statements made by this officer. We are instituting social media training for the entire department and will be conducting anti-bias policing training in addition to the mandated yearly cultural diversity requirements of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services,” he said.
Magalis, Cline and Town Manager Matthew Tederick declined to say what exactly the punishment for the officer was, citing it is part of a human resources and personnel matter. Magalis said the punishment will include training on cultural diversity, anti-bias policing and the role of social media in public safety. Cline added Tuesday there are several other punishments the officer will receive, and his responsibilities may not look the same when he returns to work.
In 15 years with the department, the officer's performance evaluations show above-average work, Magalis said. The officer has responded to over 3,000 calls for service in the community in the past three years, Magalis added. The officer has never had any disciplinary actions, citizen complaints and excessive use of force incidents in the course of his career, Magalis said.
Prior to Magalis’ statement to the council, a few people spoke on the matter during the public comment portion of the meeting, including Samuel Porter, who questioned where a statement from the council was prior to Wednesday.
“In communities where there is a lack of mutual trust, respect between law enforcement and minority communities, allegations of police misconduct, perceptions of racial profiling, excessive use of force and other incidents can lead to compromised public safety and divisive developments that have a negative impact on communities, law enforcement agencies and local governments,” Porter said.
Tim Ratigan asked if anyone had brought up that the comments were brought forward by an antifa, short for anti-facist, group. He said the town has to be careful to not find itself in a wrongful termination lawsuit, if termination was what the situation came to.
“We must take into consideration, whether we like the comments or agree with the comments, we must take into consideration this individual’s constitutional right to free speech,” Ratigan said. “We may not like it. It’s ugly. The things that he (says) causes me to shake my head in disgust, but here in our constitutional republic, not a democracy, but our constitutional republic, unfortunately that individual has a right to say those things.”
During the council member comment portion of the meeting, which was prior to Magalis' statement, Gary Gillispie and Letasha Thompson spoke on the topic.
"This council takes these things very seriously," Gillispie said. "It was nothing that was overlooked by council. Every one of us read it. Every one of us hated what we saw." Because of the investigation being conducted into the "serious" matter, he said it was not "wise" for council to comment on it just yet.
Thompson said once she became aware of the situation she reached out to the Front Royal Police Department and was told they were already looking at it. She said she requested the department post something brief about it on its website that she was going to "chime off of," but that did not happen.
Cline said Wednesday the department issued an initial statement to a local online news website and any inquiries that came into the department. The department decided to wait until the investigation and review of it was complete before a second statement was made in order to have a meaningful response to the public, she said.