A former police officer in Illinois was fired after a chain of events set off by a post about Beyonce on Facebook, attorneys said in a lawsuit.
In 2016, Michael Shreffler, a white police officer in Kankakee, Illinois, made a Facebook post about Beyonce’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl, attorneys say.
Shreffler said he was upset the singer’s outfit resembled that of a Black Panther, the Daily Journal reported.
“I thought it was crap that the NFL was allowing her to make it a political spectacle,” he said, according to the newspaper. “If it was reversed, there would be outrage. Another person said I was being racist. We got into it. It was a verbal altercation on Facebook. I made no racist comments.”
Shreffler received a written reprimand for his post from the police chief the next day, attorneys say.
Not long after, Shreffler reported “various, egregious racially charged posts” that one of the department’s lieutenants, who is black, had posted to Facebook. That lieutenant, Willie Hunt, was reprimanded then vowed that whoever turned him in would “pay for it,” attorneys allege in the lawsuit.
Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, who is black, appointed Price Dumas as Interim Police Chief in June of 2017. She appointed Hunt to Deputy Police Chief in July, attorneys say.
When Hunt was appointed, he told officers he planned to fire Shreffler over the Facebook incidents, attorneys say.
In December of 2017, almost a year after his initial post, Shreffler was reprimanded for a field violation that had taken place more than three months earlier in September of that year, attorneys say. A few months later, a patrolman made a similar violation — failing to secure a firearm — and was not reprimanded, according to the lawsuit.
In February of 2018, Shreffler received word that the mayor upheld the reprimand, attorneys said. He then posted on a Kankakee Facebook group criticizing the mayor commenting, “corruption from the mayor... weird!” and calling the administration a “[expletive] show.”
Shreffler was suspended for five days for “social media violations,” attorneys allege in the lawsuit.
The next month, Shreffler was involved in active shooter training at an area high school after which he was “accused of using a racial slur during the training,” attorneys say. A few days later he hurt his back and was out on medical leave during which time he appeared for a hearing regarding the racial slur, though he had not been made aware of the allegations, attorneys say.
During his leave, Mayor Wells-Armstrong met with Shreffler and offered to lessen the social media-related suspension from earlier in the year down to a written reprimand. Shreffler told the mayor he didn’t believe he’d done anything wrong, but agreed, attorneys say.
On May 23, 2018, the day Shreffler’s doctor released him to return to work, he was “placed on unpaid administrative leave and stripped of all police powers,” attorneys allege in the lawsuit. He was terminated on May 29 by Chief Dumas.
“Dumas misused his power and authority as interim police chief to terminate Shreffler,” attorneys allege in the lawsuit. Shreffler is suing on the basis of racial discrimination and free speech violations.
Mayor Wells-Armstrong told the Daily Journal the city would not comment on a pending lawsuit.