A Black Syracuse, New York, police officer who filed a notice of claim last month against the Syracuse Police Department believes the department is retaliating against him after he was reprimanded for a February Facebook post featuring music with “profane” lyrics. The reprimand came days after he filed a notice of claim in late June alleging he was being blocked from joining the gang violence task force.
Brandon Hanks garnered national attention in 2019 for “Pull Up Challenge” videos that showed him competing in full police uniform in basketball games against neighborhood kids. When the kids won, he would buy them a new pair of shoes, but when Hanks won, the kids had to complete pushups. Hanks’ challenge caught the attention of NBA star Rajon Rando, who donated 25 pairs of sneakers after seeing a feature on CBS evening news. Hanks was also awarded the Mayor’s Achievement Award for his work with local kids.
Hanks is the only Black officer assigned to the Gun Violence Suppression Detail. According to a notice of claim filed last month, Hank’s supervisor, Lt. Patti recommended he be transferred to the gang unit — where there are currently no Black officers on the task force — “due to his high level of performance.”
Upon learning of the recommendation, seven white officers, including head of the department Capt. Timothy Gay, “have taken extraordinary steps to deprive Mr. Hanks of his promotion,” the claim said. Including “a covert investigation into Mr. Hanks life and publishing a memorandum whereby they have fabricated a false persona of Mr. Hanks with the intent of destroying his career,” The Daily Beast reported.
In an April internal memo, Gay and other officers suggested Hanks had “known associations with gang members and convicted criminals.” According to the claim, which is a precursor to a federal lawsuit, Gay said Hanks had a tattoo that matched that of known gang members and that he’d seen social media posts showing Hanks talk to gang members about “police-related topics.”
In a complaint, Hanks said the allegations are “racist and false” attempts at destroying his career. He now claims the department is retaliating against him for filing the claim.
On July 1, Hanks was reprimanded for violating social media policies. The reprimand was a response to February Facebook post by Hanks in which he wears his uniform while music with “racial slang,” including the N-word, played. Two other posts referred to in the reprimand were from 2020 and had “profane” lyrics in the captions.
Hanks amended his complaint following the reprimand, calling it “blatant retaliation” and complaining of “blatantly racist culture within the Syracuse Police Department.”
The claim names Chief Kenton Buckner and asks for $33 million in damages as well as changes with the department.
According to Jesse Ryder, Hanks’ attorney, the music playing in the post wasn’t coming from Hank’s car. According to accounts of the video, which is no longer on Hanks’ Facebook page, he was in his private vehicle at the time.
Buckner told The Daily Beast the reprimand had nothing to do with genre of music but with the “content of the lyrics of the song” and the “racial slurs.” He also said the reprimand had been decided on since before the department received the initial notice of claim.
“We’re confident in the decision we made and why we made that decision,” he said, adding that it’s typical to look through social media when considering promotions.
Mayor Ben Walsh said in June after Hanks filed a complaint “I do know Officer Hanks, and I’ve seen his work in the community. He’s been a great representative of the Department with our young people, and I was honored to award him my Mayor’s Achievement Award late last year. The allegations are concerning and hard to read. Chief Buckner and I share a firm commitment to ensuring the SPD is a fair and equitable department with its officers and with the community. That is what we are striving for every day.”
Hanks’ mother Michele Vanfossen organized a march of about 50 people in solidarity with her son on Friday, July 16. Members of several prominent groups including Last Chance for Change and Rebirth and Mothers Against Gun Violence were there to chant “We got your back,” in response to Hanks’ claim against the department.
The group made their way past the headquarters of the Syracuse Police Department in hopes that their voices will be heard.
“I never thought this would be the case. I thought they would embrace the fact that people listen to him, that people ride for him,” said Vanfossen.