ORLANDO — A central Florida sheriff’s deputy was suspended for nearly a month after a civil rights group asked for an investigation into his Facebook posts about Muslims.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office suspended Deputy Michael Johnson for 150 hours without pay after an internal investigation found he showed “unbecoming conduct” and “bias and disrespect” toward Muslims, according to a report obtained by the Orlando Sentinel in a public records request.
In a February 2020 post on his personal Facebook page, Johnson wrote that “Muslims are taking over America,” calling them the “most intolerant people when it comes to other religions,” the report said.
“WAKE Up America, ... the Democrats only care about a vote, but with this radicalized people take (sic) over the United States you will know why because we stood there and did nothing to stop this!!! Donald J Trump for president for another 4 years!!” Johnson wrote in the post.
When interviewed by investigators, Johnson acknowledged that the post was “offensive towards all Muslims.” He said he was “trying to describe a small percentage of radicalized Muslims that only represent a very small percentage of the followers.”
The investigation found Johnson’s Facebook page can be “associated” with his employment as a sheriff’s deputy. He has numerous postings with photos in his uniform.
Sheriff John Mina told the newspaper he updated the agency’s social media policy after taking office in 2018 and warned deputies he would not hesitate to give “very harsh” discipline for violations.
The sheriff said Johnson, a 20-year veteran, was also placed on three months of disciplinary probation prohibiting him from certain perks such as working off-duty or taking home his patrol vehicle.
He said Johnson had no other history of intolerant conduct.
The Sentinel reported that at least five other deputies reacted with an emoji to Johnson’s post. None of those deputies reported the post to the agency, and none said they had concerns with the post when interviewed by internal investigators.
Mina told the newspaper deputies have an obligation to report any policy violations they see while on duty, but said that is not the case for an off-duty deputy.
The investigation began when a civil rights attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent 10 screenshots of the deputy’s Facebook activity to the agency.
Attorney Taj Murphy wrote in his complaint said they were not out to censor the deputy’s free speech, but found it “concerning” that Johnson “has made hateful, racist, and anti-Muslim statements under the color of authority of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.”
The sheriff’s office found only three of the posts flagged by the group, including the one that led to his suspension, needed further investigation, the newspaper reported.
The two other posts with “questionable content” involved Johnson’s comments about undocumented immigrants arrested in Wisconsin, and his response in a comment thread about high-profile sex abuse cases, in which Johnson argued that women sometimes lie about sexual assault.
Investigators determined those posts mainly “contained political statements or support of political viewpoints,” the Sentinel reported.
Murphy said he would still like to see the agency accept his group’s invitation to provide their Islam 101 training to deputies, as they’ve done for other law enforcement agencies in Florida, But he was happy to see that Johnson got more than just a reprimand.
“I applaud Orange County on their response to this issue,” Murphy told the newspaper.