I-TEAM: JSO Gang Unit internal text chain reveals disparaging & racially insensitive messages

Discovery comes amid investigation into racist tweets allegedly posted by JSO sergeant

New information has come to light amid a News4JAX I-TEAM investigation into a series of racist tweets from an account associated with the sergeant of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Gang Unit. Members of the Jacksonville Brotherhood of Police Officers tell the I-TEAM that they made JSO aware of different racially insensitive tweets years ago, and a spokesperson said JSO did nothing to stop it.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – New information has come to light amid a News4JAX I-TEAM investigation into a series of racist tweets from an account associated with the sergeant of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Gang Unit. Members of the Jacksonville Brotherhood of Police Officers tell the I-TEAM that they made JSO aware of different racially insensitive tweets years ago, and a spokesperson said JSO did nothing to stop it.

Chris Robinson, with the Brotherhood of Police Officers, told the I-TEAM they started reporting racially insensitive tweets posted by JSO employees to the Sheriff’s Office in 2020 after the Death of George Floyd.

The I-TEAM also obtained an internal chain of text messages involving other members of JSO’s Gang Unit, which contain disparaging remarks about African Americans, leading to one of the two African-American gang unit members quitting the squad.

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“This guy ended up leaving the unit,” said retired JSO Detective Kim Varner. “He was a good officer, a very good officer.”

Varner said a series of internal WhatsApp messages within JSO’s gang unit reveal the culture of the 10-man team.

The Gang Unit was under the leadership of Sgt. Doug Howell — who is the subject of an internal investigation for these racists tweets, disparaging blacks, Mexicans and member of the LGBTQ+ community.

A text conversation starts with Howell posting a link to a story about the National Football League, recognizing former FAMU Student Jamee Johnsons’ life at a football game.

The State Attorney’s Office ruled Johnson was killed in a justifiable shooting by Gang Unit member Josue Garriga, who allegedly writes the following on the thread:

“Why are they recognizing that clown?”

Text string message 1

A response from Howell reads: “They are so far outside of reality. Ignorance in its purest form.”

A response from Garriga reads: “Goes to show no matter how wrong they are they still will be recognized just because they were black.”

Text string message 2

It’s then that one of two Black officers on the Gang Unit replies, saying: “The shooting with Jamee Johnson was justified. However, for you to make a specific comment saying that just because a person is black that people feel sorry for them. I feel like that was completely out of line and I find it offensive.”

He goes onto to write, “We all have our opinions and that’s cool, but I’m not going to take the indirect disrespect. If you want to talk about these situations then I ask that you do it without me.”

Text string message 3

″When he read those inner squad threads or texts, he was offended by it,” Varner told the I-TEAM.

The former narcotics detective said he was made aware long ago about Howells’ feelings towards minorities. Varner also questions whether or not Howell routinely followed the law.

“I’ve talked to officers on that unit, officers that have left that unit, and they tell me the same story, that he was violating people’s rights, the Gang Unit mostly patrols Black areas,” Varner said.

As for JSO’s knowledge of racially insensitive social media postings, a spokesperson for the Jacksonville Brotherhood of Police Officers directed us to a June 2020 Facebook post, where a JSO employee takes issue with Black history month, Black colleges and even Black dating sites. They tell News4JAX they took their complaints to then-Sheriff Mike Williams and nothing was done address their concern.

Current-Sheriff Pat Ivey did sit down with faith leaders and community activists Friday in a private meeting, where Ivey assured them that JSO is taking the allegations seriously and conducting a thorough investigation. As for Howell, we’ve learned he’s been put on desk duty during the internal investigation, which has to be completed by law in 180 days.


About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.