Sheriff candidates condemn racially insensitive tweets allegedly made by JSO sergeant now under investigation

Jacksonville sheriff candidates on Tuesday condemned a series of racially insensitive tweets allegedly made by a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office sergeant.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville sheriff candidates on Tuesday condemned a series of racially insensitive tweets allegedly made by a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office sergeant.

Democrat Lakeshia Burton and Republican T.K. Waters both said there is no place in the organization for the rhetoric believed to have been tweeted by JSO Gang Unit Sgt. Douglas Howell, who attended a campaign event for Waters on Monday when News4JAX confronted him over the tweets.

One of the tweets from an account associated with the JSO sergeant says: “America’s three biggest problems: 1) Marijuana abuse 2) Marijuana abuse 3) Black people.” That tweet was published in 2013.

A tweet from June of this year, also from the Twitter handle @DPH_78, in response to a story titled “White Mexicans have had a role to play in white supremacy” says: “There are different colored Mexicans?? (Inserts Sarcasm).”

“There is no place for racism or discrimination in the JSO and I will not tolerate it as your next Sheriff. While it is important that the Sheriff’s Office complete their investigation into this situation, I find these alleged posts deeply disturbing. They subvert JSO’s efforts to improve trust and they undermine our officers’ ability to build bridges throughout Jacksonville,” Waters wrote in a statement to News4JAX.

Burton said if Howell did make those posts, it’s her opinion that he should no longer be able to wear a police uniform.

“I was appalled,” Burton told News4JAX on Tuesday. “As a mother, a Black woman with three sons, I automatically thought that is not the officer I would want my sons to encounter. But, in reality, the police officer has a right to a fair and impartial investigation to determine if there is legitimacy to this complaint. Obviously, an investigation will be done and if he’s found to have done the post he should be held accountable.”

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Burton was asked how she would combat racism in JSO if she is elected sheriff.

“The culture, your leadership, so I expect that the current sheriff will see this as a very serious manner, and do an immediate investigation, we have to do that every single time,” Burton said. “This speaks to a bigger issue. No one wants to talk about race and racial issues in this city. I’ve been openly saying for the last 18 months after traveling all over the city, and there is a divide, and a lot of that, the foundation is built on race, so you have to have a sheriff who is bold and says there’s a problem.”

Burton said she would also implement more diversity training and call for more accountability. She also criticized Waters for not doing an on-camera interview about the story after Howell attended his campaign event on Monday.

Since News4JAX first broke the story, a new tweet targeting the LGBTQ community has surfaced.

They include a post where Howell appears to disparage Boy and Girl scouts at Jacksonville’s Pride Day Parade.

“This is absolutely infuriating. These people are sick and demented,” the tweet reads.

Interim Jacksonville Sheriff Pat Ivey issued a lengthy statement to News4JAX about the investigation into Howell on Tuesday:

“The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is currently in the midst of an active administrative investigation related to multiple reports of an employee allegedly posting disparaging material on a personal social media account. As a result of the information received yesterday, I have asked that our Internal Affairs Unit look into these allegations. Detectives have begun working in their attempts to verify whether these posts are legitimate and most important, determine whether the individual responsible for the posts may be a JSO employee.

As he was identified and quoted in a recent news article, I have reached out to Bishop Rudolph McKissick. We spoke of the allegations and ensuing implications, and I assured him these allegations would be investigated to conclusion - as we have done in the past when allegations of social media violations have come to light. Our goal during the process will be to ensure a complete and accurate investigation is conducted with all available information. I want to ensure that any potential discipline levied for identified violations of policy is as inclusive as possible and that all applicable posts are captured prior to this decision being made. As such, I have reached out to the local media outlets who initially ran the story. I have asked them to provide any information that they have in their possession, or that they receive at a later date, regarding the allegations to ensure that our agency has everything we need to complete a thorough investigation.”

Interim Jacksonville Sheriff Pat Ivey

Ivey told News4JAX the level of discipline for violating their social media policy can range from suspension to termination.

Bishop Rudolph McKissick with Bethel Baptist Church, who brought attention to the tweets, called for an investigation into Howell and said the tweets illustrate a problem with how some police interact with the communities they serve.

″To have any officer who feels emboldened enough to put that in print, and still be an officer, I think capsulizes one of the problems that has to be dealt with, and one of the reasons why as Black people we look at police unfortunately with a jaundiced eye, because someone is willing to say that who’s supposed to protect us,” McKissick said.

News4JAX caught up with Howell on Monday morning at the Waters event at the Fraternal Order of Police. We asked Howell directly about his social media posts.

″You’re going to have to go through the [public information officer],” Howell responded.

News4JAX looked at JSO’s social media policy which states: “Officers are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites to the degree that their speech does not disrupt the work of JSO, or impair critical working relationships...Engaging in speech in any form, that ridicules, maligns, disparages, or otherwise expresses bias against any race, any religion, or any protected class of individuals.”

About the Author:

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