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Pinellas sheriff to Rays: Breonna Taylor tweet was ‘just wrong’ and ‘reckless’

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he'll reevaluate whether his agency will work with the baseball team in the future.

Pinellas County’s top cop condemned the Tampa Bay Rays for posting a tweet calling for the arrests of the Louisville, Ky., police officers who killed Breonna Taylor.

The official team Twitter account, @RaysBaseball, sent the tweet the morning of opening day, July 24: “Today is Opening Day,” it read, “which means it’s a great day to arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor.”

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times that he called Rays president Matt Silverman on Sunday to express his displeasure.

“To turn a baseball event into a political event is uncalled for,” Gualtieri said. “It’s just wrong, and it’s improper. It’s just reckless. It’s throwing gasoline on the fire, and it didn’t need to happen.”

The Republican sheriff, who is up for reelection in November, said it’s inappropriate for the team to opine on the Taylor case, which has drawn national scrutiny, when team officials “don’t know all the facts.”

Gualtieri said Silverman told him the tweet was not authorized by upper management.

The sheriff added that he’ll reevaluate whether his agency will assist the Rays with matters such as traffic control or security. Typically, the St. Petersburg Police Department provides those services, but Gualtieri said his deputies guard the stadium room where concessions money is kept and that his agency occasionally helps with other tasks.

St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway said in a statement to the Times that he was also “very concerned” about the tweet and “disagreed with its characterization of the officers.”

“I called the Rays organization and we had a long discussion,” Holloway said. “However, this one ‘tweet’ will not impact our commitment as a professional agency to provide a secure environment for fans at future Rays games.”

Related: Rays put opening day focus on social justice issues

In a statement to the Times, a Rays spokeswoman said the team has a “longstanding policy not to comment on private conversations.”

“We are grateful for the dialogue we continue to have with Sheriff Gualtieri and many other law enforcement personnel,” the statement said.

The Rays did not address Gualtieri’s statement that the tweet wasn’t authorized by upper management. The sheriff said he told the Rays president: “I own everything that happens here and they own this.”

Taylor is a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician who was fatally shot March 13 by Louisville police officers serving a no-knock search warrant who forced their way into her apartment. One officer has since been fired, the city has banned no-knock warrants and the FBI is investigating the shooting.

That phrasing in the Rays’ tweet — “It’s a great day to arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor” — has been used widely on social media among supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. The team followed up with tweets about systemic racism, including a pledge to donate $100,000 to community organizations fighting for social justice.

Minnesota Lynx players lock arms during a moment of silence in honor of Breonna Taylor before a WNBA basketball game against the Connecticut Sun, Sunday, July 26, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Minnesota Lynx players lock arms during a moment of silence in honor of Breonna Taylor before a WNBA basketball game against the Connecticut Sun, Sunday, July 26, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]

The Rays have a history of standing up for marginalized communities. In June, the team strongly condemned the May 25 Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd that touched off national and local protests that are now entering their third month.

“Black Lives Matter. Police brutality is inhumane,” the team wrote in a statement. “Our country demands better than this for its people. We can’t breathe.”

Gualtieri, who just finished his year term as president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, also condemned Floyd’s killing, joining a rare chorus of law enforcement leaders across the country who spoke out against one of their own.

But his condemnation did not touch on race. Instead, it stemmed from Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin’s blatant disregard for standard police training as he kneeled on Floyd’s neck for almost 8 minutes. Chauvin, who is white, has since been fired and arrested.

In response to local protests that formed after Floyd’s death, Gualtieri recently announced that several Pinellas law enforcement agencies would no longer handle the investigations conducted when their own officers use force, including deadly force. Instead, the agency will hand off the investigation to a task force made up of investigators from other departments.

Related: The Clearwater parking lot shooting: Everything you need to know about the case

The sheriff had his own controversy with race and policing in 2018, when he decided not to arrest a white man who fatally shot Markeis McGlockton, who is Black, in a Clearwater convenience store parking lot.

The sheriff said at the time the shooting was justified under Florida’s stand your ground law, which provides those who use the law immunity from arrest. Prosecutors later charged Drejka and a jury convicted him of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

But Gualtieri’s original decision touched off a national debate about self-defense and race. A few weeks after the shooting, the Rev. Al Sharpton held a rally in Clearwater to call for Drejka’s arrest.

“If you got to the scene, Mr. Sheriff, and Markeis had been standing over the white man, you would have cuffed him and taken him in jail,” Sharpton said during the rally.

Gualtieri called Sharpton’s remarks rhetoric and said he should “go back to New York.” Sharpton responded that the reaction was akin to “those of sheriffs out of the 1960s that used to call civil rights leaders invited in by victims, ‘outside agitators.’”

Related: Pinellas sheriff to Al Sharpton: 'Go back to New York. Mind your own business.'