Thursday, September 20, 2018
Public safety

Before firing, St. Petersburg officer apologized about Facebook posts

ST. PETERSBURG — Before he was fired last week, a police officer told investigators he was embarrassed about social media posts he wrote in which he declared gang members "a lost cause" deserving of "death or prison."

Officer David Garrett told investigators with the St. Petersburg Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards that the posts "were obviously in poor judgment."

"Hindsight being 20/20, I wouldn’t have done it and, you know, I would like to apologize for making the posts," Garrett said, according to a report on the matter.

Garrett, a 4-year veteran of the agency, was fired last week after police leadership sustained a complaint against Garrett for conduct unbecoming an employee.

The complaint stemmed from comments Garrett made on Facebook in December using a fake name, Dave Gee, in response to this prompt from Facebook user Alexis Lush: "How come we show so much sympathy to the teen from the suburbs who chooses suicide as a way to stop bullies, but we show no sympathy to the teen from the hood that chooses to join a gang in order to stop being their bully? Isn’t an innocent life lost in that case as well?"

The prompt set off a discussion among a handful of people in the comments. Garrett seemed to reject the parallel between those who choose suicide and those who join gangs.

"They are a lost cause," he said of the gang members, referring to where they live as "the ghetto." "They deserve death or prison. There is no saving them."

Garrett also posted a link to a rap video on YouTube and said he’s arrested many of the people featured in it. That prompted others in the discussion to click on Garrett’s Facebook profile, which featured photos of him in his St. Petersburg police uniform.

Once those in the comment thread identified Garrett as a police officer, discussion turned to whether someone should alert the department of his views. Two people took screen grabs of the exchange to send to St. Petersburg police before Garrett deleted the comments several hours later. One woman, Amanda Prescott of Texas, told professional standards investigators she asked herself if Garrett’s comments were serious.

"And so I looked at his profile and noticed that he was wearing a St. Pete police uniform in his picture and then I got even more irate," she said. "I think he realized that he should not have made those comments as someone that is sworn to protect the community."

Garrett told investigators his comments were specifically about those who appear in the rap video, which features teens or young adults holding various types of guns and blades while wearing Halloween costumes. The video has more than 150,000 views, and the group’s YouTube channel has 17,000 subscribers.

The officer told investigators he patrolled areas in south St. Petersburg and monitored "gangs" in Bethel Heights, Alden Park, Harbordale and Childs Park. He said he watches those videos as a way of gathering "intelligence:" who has guns and stolen cars. Garrett also told investigators when he said "ghetto," he was referring to the area he patrols as being one of low income, not of a particular racial makeup.

He said he deleted the posts "because I realized they were in poor judgment and poor taste."

Police leadership condemned Garrett’s comments.

"Officer Garrett’s comments on social media brought discredit to himself, the Department and adversely affected his job, as well as his reputation or goodwill in the community," the department said in a statement.

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

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