After the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last month by police officer Darren Wilson, a Seattle Police Department sergeant jumped to the defense of Wilson—who is now the subject of a grand jury investigation—and was infuriated by the Obama administration's response to the shooting and subsequent protests in Ferguson.
Sergeant Christopher Hall wrote on his Facebook profile on August 19, "In light of the Ferguson hashtag, DontShoot, I'm starting the hashtag #DontRobStores and #Dontpunchcops." And last Thursday, he posted a link to fundraising page for Wilson that sells t-shirts saying in big block letters, "Don't attack a police officer. Don't get shot."
On August 20, at 3:43 p.m., Hall, changed his profile image to a police badge that says, "Officer Darren Wilson I Stand By You."
SPD officials said they are considering a formal investigation into Hall in response to this story.
The postings seem to imply that the fatal shooting of Brown—an unarmed black teenager killed by a white cop—was an appropriate use of force during the incident, even though there's a dispute between witnesses and Ferguson police about whether Brown and Wilson were scuffling or not at the time of the gunshots. Hall's viewpoint may be particularly concerning for a Seattle cop, given that the SPD is under a federal court order to reform a pattern of excessive force and troubling practices with racial minorities.
Beyond that, Hall's views, judging by his Facebook page, appear to be that civilians are naive, weak creatures, while, according to his posts, police officers like him are "badass motherfuckers" who need military-style equipment.
SPD spokesman Sergeant Sean Whitcomb says the department is looking into Hall's prolific Facebook activity and that it's too early to say if his wide-ranging comments—which also include calling President Obama a "wuss" and accusing the president of "racism"—violate department policies. A decision is pending from the chief on whether to launch a formal misconduct investigation.
I reached Sergeant Hall by phone at his West Precinct office this morning and read quotes from his Facebook page verbatim, offering him the chance to explain his comments. "I'm not looking at what I wrote," he said, and refused to comment. When I said I could send him screenshots of what he wrote, he said I shouldn't bother. "I don't know you, and I have no interest in discussing it with you," he told me.
Direct comments and screenshots from Hall's Facebook page are below the jump.
"If you don’t like the 'militarized' police, then don’t commit crimes—the odds of you encountering an officer drops dramatically when that single factor changes... Regardless of how you feel about the police, the sheepdogs will continue to protect the resentful sheep from the wolves."
"It is even more disgusting that President Obama did break away from his vacation and golf to address the situation in Ferguson, MO and send his condolences to Michael Brown’s family," Hall wrote on August 18. "Your actions speak louder than words Mr. President, and your intentional division of this country and overt racism is an embarrassment."
"Because he's a wuss," Hall wrote in the caption for an article he shared about President Obama's reasons for not taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
On August 21 at 9:30 a.m., he shared a link to a Fox News article and added a caption that accused Attorney General Eric Holder of "feeding the racial divide." A commenter on the post said, "Not like he knows anything about law enforcement or anything." Hall liked the comment. He would not say whether he believes Holder knows nothing about law enforcement over the phone. He only said, "I don't think he's ever been a police officer or been to a police academy." (Ironically, conservative protesters who said they wanted to arrest Holder claimed victory earlier this year after he canceled a speech to an Oklahoma police academy.)
On August 28, Hall shared a link to a page raising funds for Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who killed unarmed black teenager Mike Brown two weeks ago. The linked page sells T-shirts that say in big block letters, "Don't attack a police officer. Don't get shot."
And on Tuesday, he shared a rant written by someone else about policing that included this line: "We do the things that the vast majority are too soft, too weak, too cowardly to do."
A sampling of screenshots:
Most of Hall's Facebook activity seems to occur before or after normal business hours—many of the aforementioned posts have morning and evening timestamps. But not all of it. He changed his profile picture to the "I Support Darren Wilson" badge during the afternoon. (Before that, his profile picture was a t-shirt that read, "Sergeant. Because Badass Motherf***er Isn't An Official Job Title in the Police.")
SPD's social media directive, which you can read in full here (PDF), advises its employees that they can be held liable for social network activity that is "harmful to another person's emotional state, defamatory, or an impermissible intrusion into another person's privacy."
"Police officers have a right to engage in politically-charged speech when they're not on the clock," explains Seattle police spokesman Whitcomb. "It’s really gray as far as the directive goes... If you're on duty and you’re making these remarks, that’s going to get a closer look." He said it would be up to SPD's Office of Professional Accountability to handle an investigation into the comments. OPA Director Pierce Murphy says he's discussed the case with Chief Kathleen O'Toole and is waiting to hear how she intends to deal with it.
And what about the police union that represents Hall in disciplinary matters? In the Seattle Police Officer's Guild newsletter, Hall regularly wrote the Officer of the Month column from 2006 to 2009.
I asked SPOG president Ron Smith whether he would agree if someone said, "If you don’t like the 'militarized' police, then don’t commit crimes."
"I don’t agree with that at all," he answered immediately. "There’s no room for that type of rhetoric. I don’t think it’s helpful to any police officer anywhere. Because we don’t come to work to be militarized."
After I told him Officer Hall had said exactly that, and he perused Hall's Facebook page, Smith said, "I don’t think this violates any policy per se... I just think everybody, including him, needs to be mindful of the perception created surrounding your comments in light of your profession."
He said he tells new recruits, "If you can’t say it in front of your grandma, don't say it."
Minutes after my conversation with Smith yesterday, Hall closed public access to his Facebook profile. This morning, I asked him why he did that. "Just changing the settings on my account," he said. "I didn't realize it was that wide open."