Two South Georgia police officers are out of a job after an internal affairs investigation uncovered a series of racist Facebook messages where the officers hinted at targeting African-American drivers.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, both officers are former McIntosh County sheriff’s deputies who worked on the department’s special traffic unit patrolling Interstate 95 in South Georgia.
The correspondence between ex-McIntosh deputy Brant Gaither and Darien police officer Jeremy Owens contained back-and-forth offensive jokes about women and Black people. One joke referred to African-Americans as “colored people” while another used the n-word, per records obtained by the AJC.
One of the messages featured an image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as the two officers poked fun at the civil rights icon’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech.”
“I have a dream. That one day my people will not act like animals,” said Gaither, who was fired by the department on July 25.
“Lol. That’ll never happen,” Owens replied.
According to the publication, the Darien police officer resigned just one day after Gaither was terminated. Owens had previously worked for the McIntosh sheriff’s office.
“It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Might not get too many niggs,” he wrote in reference to his discriminatory policing habits. Gaither later responded, “I hope we get a few but (expletive) if we don’t.”
The duo’s offensive messages were reportedly discovered when another deputy was issued Owens’ old laptop containing access to his Facebook account, Sheriff Stephen D. Jessup told the AJC. Jessup expressed disgust and frustration at the deeply offensive posts, adding that they made him “want to throw up.”
“There was never any question of what I needed to do and I did it,” Jessup said. “I do not tolerate that in my department.”
The sheriff’s office fired Gaither on the grounds of violating department policies regarding immoral conduct and exhibiting behavior unbecoming of a deputy. Owens had left the sheriff’s department in December to go work for the Darien Police Department.
According to the AJC, one of the duo’s online exchanges also made light of domestic violence against women and joked about Black pregnancy tests and fried chicken. When Gaither learned Jessup was going to fire him over the racially insensitive comments, he tried to downplay the severity of his actions.
“It was just a joke, we all do it” the former sheriff’s deputy said. But McIntosh County Chief Deputy George A. Trexler didn’t see it that way. Plus, when investigators inquired into Gaither’s suggestion that other deputies in the department had made similar jokes, he was unable to provide names or any other credible information.
“The content was highly racist, misogynist, and offensive toward a fellow deputy,” Trexler said in a memo to the former sheriff’s deputy announcing his termination.
Nonprofit public interest law firm Southern Center for Human Rights has since taken an interest the matter. The AJC reports that the center’s staff is currently interviewing county residents and people who may have interacted with the deputies. The SCHR is also looking into the department’s policing practices and plans to draft a formal request for the Justice Department to investigate.
“This case goes deeper than two officers caught using racist language on their personal social media pages,” said Sarah Geraghty, the center’s managing attorney for impact litigation. “The messages reference an explicit intent by these law enforcement officials to ‘get’ Black motorists. Our investigation to date suggests that this may be the tip of the iceberg.”