JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – A Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office lieutenant retired amid an internal investigation that found he acted improperly when he led the charge to remove signs critical of President Donald Trump from a Jacksonville Beach home.
The JSO investigation sustained charges of improper action, unbecoming conduct, a departure from the truth and misconduct against Lt. Steve H. Mullen after he was accused of going behind the backs of the Jacksonville Beach Police Department in February and pushing for the removal of profane anti-Trump signs from the home.
The signs read: “TRUMP SAYS GOD ****," “TRUMP SAYS S***,” “TRUMP SAYS P****,” among other expletives.
The internal investigation report that was finalized Aug. 5 makes clear the signs displayed on the fence of the home were well known to neighbors and local government.
The homeowner explained in the past that she began to display the curse words on her signs in protest of President Trump. According to the report, the homeowner said, “it is common knowledge that Trump has used these ‘filthy words’ in public settings; so by posting the same words on her fence she wants to inform others that this is not acceptable speech for a President of the United States."
JBPD officers told JSO internal investigators that they receive daily complaints about the signs but courts ruled that the signs are legal and considered protected speech.
But the signs struck a nerve with Mullen, investigators found, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Mullen told JBPD Interim Chief of Police Mark Evans that “his wife” and other family members work in the area and have to look at the signs so he was going to “fix it," according to a JSO report.
Mullen first contacted an assistant state attorney who serves as a legal advisor to JSO and asked if the signs could be considered a “breach of peace,” the investigation found. Then, on Feb. 13, Mullen and two other officers went to the home and, according to the homeowner, began to survey neighbors to find out if anyone was offended by the signs.
The homeowner said one of the officers then told her they had been invited in by the JBPD and their actions had been approved by the State Attorney’s Office. Evans told investigators that wasn’t true.
“We had absolutely zero idea why on that day [Mullen] would show up,” Evans told investigators.
The homeowner said Lt. Mullen then asked her to comply with the requests of the complaints and remove the profanity from her signs. She told them her signs were legal and approved by the city.
“JSO stated over and over they were asked to come in and arrest me if the political signs were not removed,” the homeowner wrote in a complaint. The officers then told her she was guilty of the misdemeanor crime of “disturbing the peace” with her signs.
The officers then helped her remove the signs from the fence around the home and took them away. The homeowner said the officers humiliated and upbraided her in front of her neighbors. The homeowner also said she believed the officers abused their powers.
The homeowner immediately filed a complaint with the City of Jacksonville Beach. Later that night, the officers returned to the home and gave all six of the signs back.
Chief Evans, who expressed concerns about jurisdictional boundaries, later reported the incident to JSO Internal Affairs.
In the end, the internal affairs investigation found that Mullen did make contact with JBPD but failed to coordinate property and understand what JBPD had already done and planned to do regarding the signs. The investigation found that he also “unnecessarily placed himself in the area” of the home prior to coordinating with JBPD.
Mullen disputed what the assistant state attorney, other JSO officers involved and the homeowner told investigators. Mullen said the homeowner voluntarily decided to take her signs down and asked the officers to take the signs away, but the investigation concluded Mullen actually took the signs.
The investigation also found that Mullen emailed confidential information about the homeowner to other law enforcement and a relative who is a journalist using his unsecured JSO email.
Mullen was issued a written reprimand, but no further action was taken against him due to his retirement.