JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than a dozen Black leaders gathered on the steps of the Duval County Courthouse on Wednesday, demanding a more extensive investigation into a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office sergeant’s social media pages and what other officers are posting in public.
The calls come after the News4JAX I-TEAM exposed racist tweets associated with the Twitter account of the sergeant of JSO’s Gang Unit, an outreach program.
Pastors want to know: Is this an isolated incident involving one sergeant or does JSO have a bigger issue with its culture?
Leaders who spoke Wednesday said they want JSO to weed out racism in the ranks.
“Are they not investigating their own policies, practices and procedures? Investigating everybody else but not investigating themselves,” said Ben Frazier who leads the Northside Coalition.
Community activists and local pastors said JSO should have been aware of tweets that they consider prejudiced against members of the Black, Latino and LGBTQ communities.
They’re referring to social media posts News4JAX found associated with Gang Unit Sgt. Douglas Howell’s Twitter account. A tweet from nine years ago from that account says that one of America’s biggest problems is Black people. Another tweet targets the LGBTQ community, calling them sick and demented.
“How are members of the gay and lesbian population supposed to feel when the officer who pulls up to their home sees them as sick and demented?” said NAACP leader Isaiah Rumlin.
″That’s why we are here today because it’s bigger than who is the sheriff, it’s the culture of the department, and it’s evidenced because we are dealing with something more than nine years ago,” said Chris McKee with the Church of Oakland.
The pastors take issue with the fact that Howell’s main assignment was to oversee JSO’s Violent Crime Reduction Strategy Program and Gang Unit in a city plagued with crime.
They’re calling for the current and incoming sheriff to dedicate more resources to identify officers who may not be operating with fairness and integrity in their jobs.
“Is it too much to believe that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office with its amazing and well-financed tools and methodologies should have discovered these comments long before it was unveiled by the local news media?” Frazier said.
Pastors are also concerned about the culture of the Fraternal Order of Police, pointing to the murder of George Floyd and the callous treatment Floyd received as Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes before he died.
“It’s time to weed out the potential Derek Chauvin in JSO so we don’t end up with a George Floyd situation in Jacksonville,” said African Methodist Episcopal Churches Bishop Frank Reid. “It’s not about the color of the sheriff, it’s about the culture of the agency. We are here to work with law enforcement for the safety and protection of all Jacksonville residents.”
The leaders stressed Wednesday that JSO is made up of some of the finest officers in the United States, and said their comments are not intended in any way to diminish the great work JSO officers do every single day.
They are asking to meet with current Sheriff Pat Ivey, and they want detailed plans from sheriff’s candidates T.K. Waters and Lakesha Burton about how the department plans to address their concerns.