The report behind last week's decision to terminate an Akron police officer documents two decades of misconduct, including multiple infractions for behavior that often began with sharing far-right political views on and off the job.
But it wasn’t the years of using the police radio to espouse ultra-conservative conspiracy theories, the profanity and derogatory comments made to the public or failing on occasion to properly document and investigate crimes that cost Officer James Anthony his job Thursday. Following the findings of staff investigators, Police Chief Ken Ball and Mayor Dan Horrigan are citing a series of controversial Facebook posts, especially one picked up by a Cleveland news station four months ago.
Anthony, a 23-year veteran of the police force, was fired for violating the police department's rules for social media use after a controversial comment he made on his private Facebook page questioning why the Nation of Islam leader hasn't been "offed" prompted media coverage and a public outcry.
"You have demonstrated a pattern and practice of not following procedure when interacting with the public, lacking neutrality and making inappropriate comments," Ball said in a Nov. 19 letter recommending Anthony's termination for a series of social media posts.
Anthony, who was hired in 1995, had been placed on leave since November. He reached out to the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com via email to say he was "officially wrongfully terminated" but did not respond to a reporter’s phone calls seeking further comment. Frank Williams, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Akron, said Sunday that the union plans to appeal this “excessive” disciplinary action.
Williams said the appeal would be made on Anthony’s First Amendment right to free speech and a provision of the labor contract that calls for scaling up punishments before taking the final step of severing employment.
“We went right from 0 to 100 mph with one discipline,” said Williams, who had not yet had a chance to review the investigatory report released by the city on Monday.
But the 243 pages of testimony, hearing transcripts, previous disciplinary action and work history detail how the city has written up Anthony six times since 2001, ordering counseling on three occasions and docking pay as punishment three other times.
Some infractions were for shoddy police work, like when he failed to report a 17-year-old girl hit by a car, even though the girl’s aunt had to take the student out of school later that day and drive her to the hospital for bruising, swelling and low blood pressure.
But most of the citations are for personal bias spilling onto or in some way impacting the job.
In August, Anthony sounded the air horn in his cruiser and gave a thumbs-up to protesters outside a Planned Parenthood facility. On social media, he's shared memes saying "The Democrats haven't been this upset since the Republicans took their slaves away" and "Free people own guns. Slaves don't."
Anthony used the police radio in 2009 to call former Gov. Ted Strickland a “pedophile” while complaining that the “global warming farce” was a ploy to raise taxes. Anthony apologized for that and other comments made on and off the job.
Citations for espousing racy political views increased in frequency since 2011 until culminating in a post made three days after a gunman killed 11 people at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh in late October. According to the investigation file, Anthony read a story in the wake of the shooting about Louis Farrakhan, a leader of the Nation of Islam, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an anti-Semitic hate group.
“How is it that no one has offed that dipshit asshat Farrakhan?” Anthony asked in a post he later told investigators was meant only for his Facebook friends.
“Easy on that rhetoric, James,” replied a friend, who works in Akron’s police and fire dispatch center. “You’ll be blamed for the next liberal, nutjob act of violence.”
“So?” Anthony said, later taking down the post then explaining to authorities that he genuinely did not care whether he would be blamed for subsequent violence.
WKYC (Channel 3) covered the off-the-job commentary, which prompted police administrators to take screenshots of Anthony’s social media activity and, on Nov. 8, launch the investigation. The city’s Office of Professional Standards and Accountability assigned a police researcher to monitor the public’s reaction to the WKYC story and subsequent coverage on Ohio.com and other local media outlets after residents voiced concerns at a City Council meeting.
Anthony’s personal Facebook page carried the seal of the city of Akron in the section listing his employer. The city says Anthony’s actions undercut trust in police and directly impacted his and the city’s ability to protect and serve.
On Oct. 5, Anthony posted a meme of Christine Blasey Ford, who accused then Supreme Court nominee Bret Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teens. The meme read: “Believe women,” but “women” was crossed out and replaced with “evidence.”
That post led a police captain to take Anthony off a woman's rape case.
A week before the Farrakhan post, President Donald Trump assailed a caravan of Central American migrants walking through Mexico to apply for asylum or seek work in America. Anthony took to Facebook to criticize what he called an “invasion.”
“Just a thought,” he wrote, “Shoot them all!”
Two days before Trump won in 2016, Anthony wrote: “I wouldn’t mind a little revolution. Thin the herd a bit.”
“There is a battle going on between the City of Akron and the Akron Police Department,” Anthony wrote in an unsolicited email to the Beacon Journal the day after his firing.
The city said Anthony's actions erode public trust and undermine the police department’s mission “to enhance quality of life through crime prevention, enforcement of laws, promotion of safety and reduction of fear.”
“Actions by police officers that imply or demonstrate bias, work in direct opposition to this mission and will never be tolerated,” city spokeswoman Ellen Lander Nischt said in a statement from the mayor’s office. “Akron police officers are held to a high standard of conduct and integrity both on and off duty. Akron residents must have confidence that officers serving our community will treat all people with dignity and respect.”
Reach Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.