Elgin officer on leave, Facebook comments under investigation
An Elgin police officer was put on leave after he was accused of posting on Facebook that a Missouri police officer "did society a favor" when he shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown last month.
The Elgin Police Department and the city's office of professional standards are conducting an investigation regarding officer Jason A. Lentz, 40, who was placed on paid administrative leave Aug. 21, Deputy Chief Bill Wolf said.
Records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show a police department sergeant read the post, which said, "Hmmm ... innocent victim my (expletive). Did society a favor," on Aug. 15, shortly after it was posted under Lentz's Facebook account.
The post also included a link to video surveillance footage that the Ferguson, Missouri, police department said showed Brown stealing from a store before he was killed Aug. 9.
The Elgin sergeant who read the post informed command staff members, and Lentz was asked to remove the post.
"This demonstrates that Elgin's police officers are immediately reporting conduct that is inconsistent with the department's policies and values," Wolf said.
Before-and-after screen shots taken Aug. 15 by the police department show Lentz only changed the original post to "Hmmm ..."
Command staff members then searched Lentz's Facebook account on Aug. 21, records show, and took screen shots of 10 more Facebook posts dating back to August 2013 that appear to have racial connotations.
"The city's action in placing Lentz on administrative leave pending a full investigation is indicative of the seriousness of the impropriety the city is ascribing to Lentz's Facebook posts," City Manager Sean Stegall said.
The department implemented a social media policy in November requiring professionalism. There have been no other cases of disciplinary action related to police officers making inappropriate comments on social media, Stegall said.
Lentz's attorney, Timothy D. O'Neil, said his client hasn't been told what the charges are. However, records show Lentz signed a notification of charges Aug. 26.
"We are appalled that the press knows," O'Neil said, arguing that ongoing investigations are not susceptible to FOIA requests. "I will strongly advise my client to sue the city."
O'Neil also questioned why personal Facebook posts would be subject to disciplinary action. "What happened to the First Amendment?" he said.
Records show an Aug. 17 post by Lentz said: "Appears to be the enemy within," above a photo of Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol posing next to another man, with both making an upside down OK sign with their hands. Both men are black. The Washington Post reported Aug. 20 that the sign represents Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity.
A July 7 post about relatives of a black man charged with the murder of a police officer in Indianapolis said: "If your kid wasn't a (expletive) bag that officer would still be alive," records show.
A November 2013 post lauded a parent's decision to keep a child from school on Veterans Day, pointing out children don't go to school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, records show.
An August 2013 post about a police training class canceled in Lombard after protests from a Muslim civil liberties group said: "Hmmm ... another way to thwart law enforcement efforts from learning about threats to our cities and nation. Again we are falling prey to political correctness," records show.
Lentz was put on leave as soon as Wolf and Chief Jeff Swoboda were informed about the allegations, Wolf said. "We hope to have (the investigation) wrapped up in the next few weeks," Wolf said.
Lentz has yet to be questioned, officials said. The investigation follows the procedures of the Uniform Peace Officers Disciplinary Act, Elgin Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal said.
This isn't the first time Lentz got in trouble because of a Facebook post.
He got a two-day suspension in May after he falsely stated on Facebook that the police department fabricated calls for service, records show.
Records also show Lentz has been disciplined several times since he was hired in January 1997.
He received a three-day suspension in 2001 after he violated procedures by calling in a phony traffic stop and canceling it, and then making disparaging comments about a supervisor.
In 2010, he got an oral reprimand after he was found to be at fault in a squad car crash.
Also in 2010, he got a written reprimand after he responded to a call about a battery complaint on a school bus and yelled and used profanity directed at the high school students.
In 2011, he got a one-day suspension after he failed to appear as a witness in court.
In 2012, he got a one-day suspension after he sent "an inappropriate email" to the police department.