An Ohio deputy remains on the job after recordings surfaced of him repeatedly using racial slurs while mocking the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin with another deputy.
The recordings, which were made surreptitiously in 2013 by a third deputy, surfaced earlier this year as part of a lawsuit filed by the former Hocking County coroner against Sheriff Lanny North and other law officers, reported the Columbus Dispatch.
The sheriff said he first learned of the recordings four months ago, when they were submitted as evidence by the attorney for former coroner David Cummin, who accused North, several of his deputies and Prosecutor Laina Fetherolf of malicious prosecution, intimidation of a public official and violating Ohio’s Open Meetings laws.
The two deputies, identified as Patrick Allison and Edwin Downs, used the N-word eight times during the on-duty conversation about building and selling portable crosses after the fatal 2012 shooting of Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black boy, during a physical confrontation instigated by George Zimmerman.
“We should make a little money,” Allison says on the recording. “They ought 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.”
The deputies then laughed.
The sheriff told the newspaper he counseled both deputies after he heard the recordings, and an attorney hired by the county recommended both men take a one-hour, online class on the awareness of cultural diversity from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which North said they did.
“It seems to be an isolated incident,” North said. “They did violate our code of conduct.”
But civil rights groups said the deputies’ on-duty behavior was outrageous, and the consequences laughable.
“That’s not even a punishment to me,” said Sybil Edwards-McNabb, president of the Ohio Conference NAACP, told the Dispatch. “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.”
Nearly 98 percent of Hocking County’s 29,380 residents are white.
The 41-year-old Downs, who has been in law enforcement since 1995, remains employed by the sheriff’s office, where he’s worked since 2008.
The 55-year-old Allison, who retired in 2014 after 26 years as a deputy, was rehired last year by the sheriff but left after the recordings were revealed.
Edwards-McNabb said the recordings showed neither man was fit to serve as a public employee, but the sheriff suggested they’d simply shown poor judgement.
“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,” North said.
Zimmerman, who was acquitted after claiming self-defense, reportedly sold the gun he used to kill Martin.