Published: Monday, March 26, 2012, 7:30 PM Updated: Monday, March 26, 2012, 8:16 PM
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
A white New Orleans police officer involved in the recent fatal police shooting of a young black man has been suspended after posting comments below an online news story in which he said that a black youth in Florida who was killed by a civilian deserved to die because he acted like “a thug.” Officer Jason Giroir wrote, “Act like a Thug Die like one!” below an article posted Sunday on wwltv.com about local citizens rallying to protest the fatal shooting last month of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old who was fatally shot while wearing a hooded sweatshirt and walking through a gated community.
Martin’s encounter with a gun-wielding neighborhood watch volunteer has touched off a national debate about racial profiling and the morality of “stand your ground” laws, which allow people being attacked to defend themselves with force if necessary.
On WWL-TV’s website, after a commenter named Eddie Johnson criticized Giroir’s initial comments as racist and questioned whether a hooded sweatshirt makes someone a thug, Giroir responded: “Eddie come on down to our town with a ‘Hoodie’ and you can join Martin in HELL and talk about your racist stories!” He ended the sentence with an emoticon that depicts a tongue wagging.
In a news conference Monday, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said Giroir’s postings caused him great concern. The office is indefinitely suspended without pay, Serpas said.
“To say I’m angry is an understatement. I’m furious,” Serpas said.
Serpas repeatedly said Giroir’s views do not reflect those of the NOPD.
Giroir’s attorney, Eric Hessler, said Monday that Giroir spoke to NOPD internal affairs investigators Monday and admitted authoring the postings.
“His statement is ‘Yes, I did it,'” Hessler said. “He certainly didn’t mean it as a racial comment, as an offensive comment, although it came out that way. He acknowledges he should have chosen better words. I couldn’t agree with him more.”
Hessler said his client is not a racist.
“It was a boneheaded comment. He admits so.”
Giroir’s wife also posted a similar comment about Martin — “He acted like a thug and died like one” — under the WWL-TV story.
Giroir, 35, of Covington, was recently under investigation for his role in a fatal shootout earlier this month in Mid-City.
The incident occurred after Giroir early one morning pulled over a vehicle that allegedly had a broken license plate light. Inside the car were two brothers, Justin and Earl Sipp. Both are black.
Giroir had called for backup during the stop. Two officers, Anthony Mayfield Jr. and Michael Asevedo, responded. All three officers are white.
Police officials have said that Justin Sipp suddenly opened fire on police, prompting Giroir and Mayfield to return fire. Mayfield and Asevedo were severely wounded, but Giroir was unscathed. The NOPD has not suggested that the shooting was unjustified.
Hessler said Giroir has been cleared in the shooting and returned from reassignment to regular duty in the 8th District.
The NOPD did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening about Giroir’s reassignment.
At the time of the shooting, Giroir’s Myspace profile featured comments that suggested he sometimes bends rules in his job. The profile read:
“Hello, my name is Jason C. Giroir. I have been a New Orleans police officer for almost 10 years. I enjoy my job because I like to make a positive impact in life. Sometimes that means not doing everything by the book. Everyone who knows me understands what I mean.”
He calls his family his strength and motivation. Under the category for occupation, Giroir wrote: “Punisher.”
On his Facebook page, Giroir also wrote: “I have been in Law Enforcement for about as long as I could vote. I do it because I like it and have the chance to make a lot of money.”
Giroir was involved in an incident in April 2006 in which a black motorist — the wife of an NOPD cop and the sister of another officer — alleged she was beaten outside her Gentilly home.
Police said Jonie Pratt, the wife of NOPD Detective Desmond Pratt, was speeding and ran a red light. Three officers followed her to her house in the 4200 block of Touro Street.
Pratt said when she questioned the officers — Giroir, Joseph Haines and Ryan Vaught — about the stop, they responded by pulling her out of the car, cursing her, and punching her, fracturing her wrist and causing lesser injuries. Two of the officers were white and one was black.
A misconduct allegation against Giroir was not sustained by the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau. The District Attorney’s office refused charges against Giroir, citing insufficient evidence, according to NOPD spokeswoman Remi Braden.
The city later settled a federal civil lawsuit filed by Pratt, but city officials did not respond Monday to questions about the size of the settlement.
Vaught was part of a group of officers that served a search warrant on a Gentilly home a week after Sipp was killed. During that raid, in which police were searching for marijuana, NOPD Officer Joshua Colclough fired a single shot that killed unarmed Wendell Allen, 20. That case is under investigation.
The two recent shootings by New Orleans police of young black men sparked a wave of protests in recent weeks, with the Allen case in particular prompting outrage from relatives and civil-rights leaders. Giroir’s comments will doubtless inflame those tensions; leaders of the local NAACP branch have scheduled a news conference for this morning.
“Our city has been sitting on a precipice of civil unrest, particularly following the murders of Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen by NOPD officers,” the group said in a statement Monday. The group also panned “the existing culture of the NOPD” and questioned how Giroir could feel comfortable making such statements.
City leaders have been trying to cast the NOPD as a department on the mend after a series of scandals involving use of force, most involving black victims shot or beaten in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The city, the NOPD, and federal officials are negotiating a wide-reaching consent decree that will mandate numerous reforms and establish benchmarks that the department must meet.
A scathing report by the U.S. Department of Justice last year found disproportionate use of force by NOPD officers against black people. The report also found that New Orleans police are far more likely to arrest black youths than white ones, both for serious crimes and offenses like disorderly conduct.
The report called on the NOPD and city leadership to “acknowledge community concerns regarding discriminatory policing.”
Serpas nodded to the palpable tension Monday, saying he understood that Giroir’s statements may “cast a new doubt” on the department, “and that is regrettable.”
He added that the NOPD is comprised of hundreds of officers of disparate race, gender, and ethnicity who strive to make the city better. Comments like Giroir’s “certainly get in the way,” he said.
Landrieu released a statement echoing those sentiments. “The people of New Orleans and my Administration will not tolerate this reckless and offensive behavior,” he said. “I condemn his statements in the strongest of terms.”
Giroir is just the latest local public servant to get punished for his online postings. Last week, a high-ranking prosecutor in the local U.S. Attorney’s office resigned after it was revealed he posted hundreds, if not thousands, of intemperate comments about colleagues, foes, judges, and targets of federal probes on NOLA.com.
The NOPD has had to deal with the perils of “oversharing” as well. Earlier this month, the city’s Civil Service Commission upheld the four-day suspensions of NOPD officers Damond Harris and William Torres, both of whom posted inflammatory remarks about a colleague.
Harris used Facebook to post about Torres’ alleged ability to seduce lesbians. Torres, a friend of Harris’, responded by using the initials of a fellow NOPD officer, who is a lesbian, and calling her a “douche.” That officer complained and an internal investigation commenced.
Giroir’s attorney, Hessler, said Monday that it’s clear everyone needs to “think before they type.”
The NOPD in February revised its rules and regulations regarding social networking sites. Serpas said that officers, on or off-duty, must not besmirch or embarrass the department and city they serve. He noted that once an officer does so, he or she has “bought the farm.”