A veteran trooper with the Vermont State Police has been suspended with pay, because of what he wrote on Facebook, the commander of the Vermont State Police said.
“This just goes against the fabric of the State Police,” Colonel Tom L’Esperance told New England Cable News. “This is something that can't be tolerated.”
This weekend, a Facebook user complained to Vermont State Police about posts on Corporal Jon Graham’s personal page.
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One message called early indications of Olympic champion Bruce Jenner's transgender identity evidence of the “decline of America.”
In another post, the trooper remarked that he wished he could force an electric car driver to spin out in her vehicle. She apparently had different political views.
The complainant also flagged at least two other messages for the State Police to look into, which made derogatory remarks about Muslims.
Col. L'Esperance said there's no reason to believe that the tipster doctored any screen grabs that were supplied to Vermont State Police. The page the posts were made on has since been taken down. L’Esperance expressed gratitude to the tipster for bringing this matter to his attention.
L’Esperance told NECN that Graham, who was hired in February 1999 and is assigned to the Rockingham barracks, is on paid administrative leave while an investigation is underway.
“If this was something that we picked up on in the hiring process, we wouldn't hire a person like this,” L’Esperance noted, describing his general concern about social media comments that would appear to target certain groups or individuals. “That's how serious this is.”
Elaine Young, a professor at Champlain College in Burlington who teaches courses on social media, said Graham is certainly under added scrutiny because of his trusted position in the community.
Young said she believes that employers across many sectors need to update their policies around social media use, and offer reminders and training to workers about what they can and cannot say online.
“Check yourself before you wreck yourself,” Young cautioned, describing any time you post something online that could be perceived as inflammatory or negative. “There really isn't a private space online any longer.”
On several Facebook pages, including the one maintained by the Vermont State Police, many people stuck up for Corporal Graham, calling him “a good cop” who has served his community well. Other comments argued Graham should be entitled to freedom of speech on his personal Facebook page.
But L’Esperance pointed to the force's code of conduct, which states, "Members shall conduct themselves with propriety and dignity at all times, both on and off duty."
That code of conduct continues to say, “No member shall conduct himself/herself in a manner which is unbecoming to a Vermont State Police Officer. Conduct unbecoming an officer is that type of conduct which could reasonably be expected to damage or destroy public respect for or confidence in members of the Department or which impairs the operation or efficiency of the Department or the ability of a member to perform his/her duty. Conduct which violates VSP-DIR-118 (Sexual Harassment) may constitute conduct unbecoming."
Discipline for violating the code of conduct could bring a letter of reprimand to five days unpaid suspension for a first offense, Vermont
State Police said. Subsequent offenses could bring an additional five days of unpaid suspension or even dismissal, according to a policy statement supplied to NECN by Vermont State Police public information officer Scott Waterman.
L’Esperance said there have been no allegations of biased policing made against Graham. Still, L’Esperance said he hopes the reports of concerning social media activity do not reflect on the Vermont State Police as a whole.