BREVARD COUNTY, Florida -- A Brevard chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police posted a now deleted advertisement over the weekend calling on those officers involved in violent incidents in Buffalo, NY and Atlanta, GA, to join the ranks of local police agencies, drawing howls of outrage from citizens across Florida.
"Hey Buffalo 57... and Atlanta 6... we are hiring in Florida. Lower taxes, no spineless leadership, or dumb mayors rambling on at press conferences... Plus... we got your back! #lawandorderFlorida," reads the June 6 post made at 1:21 a.m on the Brevard County F.O.P. Facebook page. The post, deleted sometime Monday morning garnered over 2,000 comments and 1,000 shares.
The Fraternal Order of Police is the largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers in the country, representing some 300,000 members across some 2,000 local "lodges." Critics say the non-profit organization is a major obstacle to policing reform through their advocacy and deep ties to police unions.
The President of the Brevard County lodge acknowledged that the post was legitimate and defended its recruiting efforts as well as the actions of the Buffalo and Atlanta police officers involved in the widely condemned incidents. Some of those officers have been arrested and face criminal charges.
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In Buffalo, 57 police officers quit their unit after two of their colleagues were suspended for pushing an unarmed 75-year-old man to the ground, cracking his skull. The incident was caught on video.
In Atlanta. six officers were criminally charged, four with felonies, for the arrest of two black college students, a man and a woman, while leaving a protest in their car. The incident, also caught on video, shows them violently removing the pair from the vehicle, tasing them and slamming them to the ground. One of the students suffered a broken wrist and a deep gash.
Brevard County F.O.P. President Bert Gamin, who said he is a 28-year law enforcement veteran, with two years as a Melbourne Police Department reservist and 26 years with the Brevard County Sheriff's Office, claimed responsibility for the recruitment post.
"Our citizens have a right to protest peacefully and legally. They do not have a right to block roadways, trespass on private property or disobey lawful commands from law enforcement officers," he wrote in response to emailed questions from FLORIDA TODAY.
He also defended the incidents in Buffalo and Atlanta.
"The police had the legal authority in both cases. At the time the warnings were provided, the citizens were already breaking the law. Those citizens chose to disregard the warnings. It led directly to escalations and confrontations with the police. When we issue lawful commands/warnings, citizens have a responsibility to comply. The reality is failure to comply leads to escalation."
"As it specifically relates to the elderly gentleman in Buffalo, he and others were repeatedly warned by the police to leave the area. They disobeyed the orders, 'he wrote, adding "Those Buffalo officers, like many across this nation, are being placed in absolute no-win situations. That field force unit was ordered to clear the area. They followed the orders they were given and followed their training."
Gamin also implied that his fellow lodge members felt the same way.
"Members of my lodge and many who I work with express their frustrations to me daily," he said, adding: "No one on the planet condones what happened to Mr. Floyd."
Gamin was honored by the BCSO in 2018 for saving a 72-year-old woman from a vehicle that rolled off the road into a swamp.
But Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey distanced himself from the Brevard F.O.P. posts in a statement on Facebook, calling them "extremely distasteful and insensitive to current important and critical issues that are occurring across our country."
Ivey said comments by the organization or its members have no connection to his agency and "do not in any way represent the views of our agency."
Ivey said BCSO members are represented by "another association."
Prominent local city and state officials also denounced the posting, including state Representative Randy Fine (R—Palm Bay), who called on Ivey to fire Gamin who is a BCSO Lieutenant.
While he recognized union rules may make it difficult for Gamin to be dismissed, "I hope the Sheriff fires him," Fine said.
The Brevard County F.O.P says it provides support to over 600 officers and deputies according to its website, but Gamin said the membership is "approximately 190."
"The FOP exists for the purpose of improving the conditions of policeman (sic) and for advancing social, benevolent, charitable and educational undertakings among policemen, and the community," according to the Brevard FOP Facebook page.
"We provide a social setting and legal representation, depending on their level of membership," he said.
The chapter, the J.W. Dunn Memorial Lodge #37, is the oldest in the county, established in 1965 according to their site. Gamin said membership includes officers in the BCSO, Cocoa Beach PD, Satellite Beach PD, Indian Harbour Beach PD, Melbourne PD, Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC), and "many retired members from agencies all over the Country." The Facebook page also says Rockledge PD officers are members. A BCSO command staff as well as officers in several other agencies are listed as officers for the non-profit on their tax forms.
Vickey Mitchner, who organized the Space Coast's largest peaceful demonstration on Saturday, said she hoped to see Brevard police departments distance themselves from the inflammatory Facebook postings.
"People are marching (against) police brutality and injustices ... that was an unnecessary comment and very offensive to victims who have suffered at the hand of police brutality," she said.
Lt. Mike Smith, a spokesman for the Palm Bay Police department, Brevard's largest municipality, said Palm Bay officers are not represented by the FOP chapter that made the recruitment post.
"Whatever or whoever that represents has nothing to do with the city of Palm Bay or the Palm Bay PD," Smith said, noting officers from the city are represented by lodge #111.
"Certain people or organizations have opinions or agendas, and we all get lumped into that, but we definitely do things different here in Palm Bay, which is why we have such a strong relationship with our communities," he added.
Palm Bay's Police Chief Nelson Moya had joined peaceful demonstrations in the county in the past week.
By noon on Monday the City of Rockledge and the Satellite Beach Police Department also took to Facebook to disavow the post in nearly identical statements.
"The City of (Rockledge/ Satellite Beach) Mayor, City Council, City Manager and staff would again like to thank the thousands of members of the community who have spoken out against racial injustice, police brutality, and hate in a peaceful, organized effort to enact change – we stand with you," both statements read.
A short time later Cocoa and Melbourne Police Departments joined the chorus of disapproval, adding they've requested the removal of an image of MPD police vehicle from the FOP Facebook page.
"We are grateful to our community members who have spoken out and peacefully demonstrated in recent days against racial injustice and police brutality," Chief David Gillespie wrote in a statemetn. "We remain committed to continued discussions with our local community in the days, weeks and months to come."
Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon is a Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact him at 321-355-8144, [email protected] and Twitter: @alemzs
J.D. Gallop is Criminal Justice Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact him at 321-917-4641, [email protected] and Twitter: @JDGallop
This story originally published to floridatoday.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.
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