Deputy is still on the job despite recordings of him repeatedly using racial slurs to mock Martin’s death.
In scenes somewhat reminiscent of a racist texting scandal that has shaken the San Francisco Police Department, public officials in Hocking County, Ohio, are reeling after audio has surfaced as part of a federal lawsuit showing two on-duty deputies making racist comments.
Hocking County sheriff’s deputies Patrick Allison and Edwin Downs, while on duty and taxpayer’s time, made “jokes” about burning crosses and subsequently building portable crosses that they could bring with them outside different homes of local black families.
In two conversations discretely recorded by another official, the n-word was spoken eight times.
“I am past being offended. I’m outraged that it’s still going on,” said Sybil Edwards-McNabb, president of the Ohio Conference of NAACP, “It needs to be addressed.”
Hocking County, which counts 97.5% of its residents white, is an isolated county which Sheriff Lanny North admits may result in some of its residents using “improper language” but was quick to stress that it shouldn’t happen in his department. The recordings were allegedly made in 2013 but officially entered into evidence in a 2015 civil suit filed by Hocking County Coronoer David Cummin against the sheriff, several of his deputies, and multiple other local officials.
Cummin’s suit accuses them of malicious prosecution, intimidation of a public official and violating Ohio’s Open Meeting laws after criminal charges surfaced against the plaintiff accusing the coroner of not doing his job. All of the charges were later dismissed.
The discussions on the audio recorded in 2013 seemed to directly center around the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old unarmed black teen in Florida killed by resident George Zimmerman while performing neighborhood watch duties, which has resurfaced after news of Zimmerman’s auctioning of the gun used in Martin’s death.
“We should make a little money,” Allison said on the tape. “They out to pay us to burn crosses in neighborhoods. We could sell portable crosses, like have a wood cross with the base so you could just stand it in the yard instead of like having to dig a hole for it. It could have like firestarter chunks built into it.”
A chorus of laughter follows the deputies remarks.
When it was suggested that the shooting may have had more to do with gun control and Zimmerman’s aggression, Downs responded “It did, but a lot of it was, was because he was a ‘n-word’ – a ‘n-word thug.”
Upon discovering the audio, Allison and Downs were ordered by Sheriff North to take a one-hour, online class on the awareness of cultural diversity from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
“That’s not even a punishment to me,” Edwards-McNabb said, “That can be interpreted as a slap on the wrist. The alarming thing is the conversations were done so casually, especially by sworn officers. There was a comfort level they had in making those comments.”
“They’re human and they have the right to express their freedom of speech, but there’s a time and place to do that but the time and place is not in the office in uniform,” the sheriff added.