search
Sections List
American Journal News

Police used Facebook group to bully trans rights and Black Lives Matter supporters

A private Facebook group for Pittsburgh police served harsh criticism to anyone perceived to support so-called ‘demoncrats,’ Black Lives Matter, or coronavirus safety measures.

By Associated Press - March 23, 2021
Share

In a private Facebook group called the Pittsburgh Area Police Breakroom, many current and retired officers spent the year criticizing chiefs who took a knee or officers who marched with Black Lives Matter protesters, whom they called “terrorists” or “thugs.” They made transphobic posts and bullied members who supported anti-police brutality protesters or Joe Biden in a forum billed as a place officers can “decompress, rant, share ideas.”

Many of the deluge of daily posts were jokes about the hardships of being officers, memorials to deceased colleagues or conversations about training and equipment. But over the group’s almost four-year existence, a few dozen members became more vocal with posts that shifted toward pro-Donald Trump memes and harsh criticism of anyone perceived to support so-called “demoncrats,” Black Lives Matter, or coronavirus safety measures.

In June, Tim Huschak, a corporal at the Borough of Lincoln Police Department, posted a screenshot of an Allegheny County 911 dispatcher’s Facebook page indicating that the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” used by law enforcement supporters is not equivalent to the slogan “Black Lives Matter” because policing is a choice, not a fact of birth. He wrote: “Many negative posts on police. And we should trust her with our lives???”

Some angry members rallied quickly and organized phone calls to her supervisor demanding she be fired.

“Multiple officers should call and report it. Remember NO JUSTICE NO PEACE LOL,” West Mifflin Borough Police Department officer Tommy Trieu responded under his Facebook name, Tommy Bear.

Trieu was one of two West Mifflin officers seen in a video last year restraining a 15-year-old Black girl after responding to a call about a fight on a school bus. Activists called for firing the officers, but borough officials said the recording started after a student hit an officer and that they “did nothing wrong.”

A few members of the group also were bullied or left the page, including an officer who said the Fraternal Order of Police’s Trump endorsement did not represent her and a Black officer who was accused of creating a fake Facebook account to complain about the lack of diversity in local departments.

The Associated Press was able to view posts and comments from the group, which has 2,200 members, including about a dozen current and former police chiefs — from mainly Allegheny County and some surrounding areas stretching into Ohio — and at least one judge and one councilman. After the AP began asking about posts last week, the group appeared to have been deleted or suspended from view.

Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said Monday that the group was removed “for violating our policies” before the AP published its story, but could not say whether it came after a complaint or as part of routine monitoring. Last year, Facebook released an update to its community standards: “People turn to Facebook Groups to connect with others who share their interests, but even if they decide to make a group private, they have to play by the same rules as everyone else.”

Contacted by the AP, Lincoln Borough Police Chief Richard Bosco said departmental policy prohibited Huschak from talking to the media. He said the officer is known for his service to the community and wasn’t aware that others had posted insults under his post or that things had “gotten out of hand.”

“He understood the concerns and he deleted the post,” Bosco said. “There is and there needs to be a higher professional standard for police, especially when it comes to social media.”

Trieu defended his comment, telling the AP that he was merely advising other officers in the group that, just like community members can complain about officers, they could file a grievance with a dispatcher’s supervisor if they feared for their safety.

Concerns about explicit bias on officers’ social media accounts were renewed in the last year after a summer of protests demanding an end to police brutality and racial injustice in policing and pro-Trump protests in January that led to a violent siege on the Capitol.

The private Facebook page showed embattled officers hostile to criticism and doubling down on policing as it currently exists, with many posts and comments possibly violating some department social media policies that prohibit disparaging comments about race or that express bias or harass others.

Joe Hoffman, a West Mifflin Borough Police officer, posted a criticism of Webster, Massachusetts, Police Chief Michael Shaw, who lay on his stomach on the steps of his station for about eight minutes — a reference to George Floyd dying after being held on the ground by Minneapolis police.

“If you are a law enforcement officer and you kneel or lie on the ground so easily over the false narrative of police brutality, you will one day be executed on your knees or your stomach without a fight by the same criminals that you are currently pandering to,” he wrote, calling the organization “Black Lies Matter.”

Hoffman did not return requests for comment left with the police department or a phone number listed in his name.

In another post, a now-retired Pittsburgh police officer talked about being stuck in traffic for hours in June 2018 after protesters commandeered a highway days after a former East Pittsburgh police officer shot and killed 17-year-old Antwon Rose as he ran from a traffic stop. After the officer mentioned having his service weapon in the trunk, other officers said he shouldn’t hesitate to use lethal force because he’d be protecting himself, while others said police should use dogs and water cannons to clear the demonstrators, a reference to police tactics during civil rights protests in the ’60s.

During that 2018 protest, two people were injured when Bell Acres Councilman Gregory Wagner attempted to drive through a crowd near PNC Park. After his arrest, members of the Facebook group posted support for his actions, with one retired Pittsburgh police officer writing that Wagner was merely “trying to get away from a hostile, TERRORISTIC crowd.”

Mount Pleasant Township Police Chief Lou McQuillan, who recently announced he is running for a vacant magisterial district judge post, was listed as one of the Facebook group’s four administrators.

McQuillan posted an article in June 2017 about a civil settlement being reached in the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, remarking on how the amount of the award was determined: “future earnings? lol What about Ofc Wilson? What about his lost earnings? Joke.” Several officers replied that Brown’s earnings would have derived from crimes or welfare checks, with one posting the theme song from “The Jeffersons.”

McQuillan declined an interview request from the AP, instead sending a statement saying, “Of course, I regret the loss of any life. My comments and posts from four years ago were meant to support law enforcement and police officers everywhere. And I believe in law and order.”

Dozens of group members, many retired or no longer in law enforcement, fueled days of transphobic posts about former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine for her role in statewide social-distancing mandates to stop the spread of COVID-19. Levine, who is transgender, has since been tapped by Biden to be assistant health secretary.

The posts referred to Levine as “he” or “it” and called her a “freak” and other names. “Someone needs to shoot this thing!!” one retired officer wrote.

The group’s rules do not explicitly prohibit racist, sexist or otherwise disparaging content, but do threaten expulsion if members don’t agree to privacy.

According to the group’s introduction, “What goes on in here, STAYS IN HERE. We can have discussions, opinions, thoughts, and even rants, but there is to be NO SHARING outside of this page of anything posted here!”

The Pittsburgh-area officers weren’t alone in posting sometimes hostile and disparaging content to social media. In 2019, the Plain View Project released a database of similar posts from officers in eight departments around the country.

The project, founded by a group of Philadelphia attorneys, examined the Facebook accounts of 2,900 active and 600 retired officers, finding thousands of posts that were racist, sexist, advocated for police brutality or were similarly problematic. The group made the database public, saying the posts eroded the public’s trust.

“In our view, people who are subject to decisions made by law enforcement may fairly question whether these online statements about race, religion, ethnicity and the acceptability of violent policing — among other topics — inform officers’ on-the-job behaviors and choices,” the project’s founders wrote.

Pittsburgh was not part of the project, but city officials have received a handful of complaints about social media posts by officers, at least two of which were perceived as racist.

Amid the 2018 protests over the shooting of Antwon Rose, Officer Brian M. Martin appeared to express glee at the death of Black Pittsburgh rapper Jimmy Wopo, writing: “I’m still celebrating.” He later pleaded no contest to a DUI after hitting a bicyclist and leaving the scene of the accident while off-duty, and was placed on leave. He withdrew that plea late last week and was found guilty of a lesser charge of careless driving, according to court records.

Last August, a resident lodged a complaint against Sgt. George Kristoff, whose public Facebook page contained disparaging memes about Black people and police brutality protesters.

Pittsburgh’s Office of Municipal Investigations, which investigates complaints against the police and other city employees, reviewed both cases after complaints from the public, but city public safety spokesperson Chris Togneri said he could not discuss the outcome or comment on whether the men were still employed. A spokesperson Monday said Martin no longer works at the department.

Following the complaint against Kristoff, the department revised its social media policy to emphasize that officers may face discipline for online comments, especially those undermining public trust in the force. Some of the smaller police departments around Allegheny County contacted by the AP either did not have social media policies or had policies that were less specific about offenses. Others, like Lincoln Borough, were working on implementing new policies.

Pittsburgh’s new policy explicitly states officers may face disciplinary action for sharing “any content involving discourteous or disrespectful remarks … pertaining to issues of ethnicity, race, religion, gender, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, and/or disability.” It also says officers are forbidden from “advocating harassment or violence.”

“I think that’s really important that the police department has revised its policies to reflect the type of policing they want in their community,” said Elizabeth Pittenger, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board.

Kyna James, a community organizer at the Alliance for Police Accountability in Pittsburgh, said activists calling for police reforms just want officers to be held to the same accountability that citizens are, adding that the existence of the Facebook group and the posts were not surprising.

“You know, that doesn’t make it less upsetting,” James said. “It’s 2021, and it’s a shame that we are still here and we are still dealing with this.”


AJ News
Get the latest news here first.

Tai News

Newsletter
Read More
Abortion care and transgender health care are ‘parallel struggles’ in 2024 legislation

Abortion care and transgender health care are ‘parallel struggles’ in 2024 legislation

By Danielle J. Brown, Maryland Matters - February 16, 2024
Critics say AZ ‘Women’s Bill of Rights’ puts transgender women at risk

Critics say AZ ‘Women’s Bill of Rights’ puts transgender women at risk

By Gloria Rebecca Gomez, Arizona Mirror - February 14, 2024
Activists protest Reynolds’ bill excluding transgender people from certain facilities

Activists protest Reynolds’ bill excluding transgender people from certain facilities

By Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch - February 12, 2024
Texas conservatives test how far they can extend abortion and gender-transition restrictions beyond state lines

Texas conservatives test how far they can extend abortion and gender-transition restrictions beyond state lines

By Eleanor Klibanoff, Texas Tribune and William Melhado, Texas Tribune - February 09, 2024
Republican Scott Parkinson falsely claims pedophiles are part of LGBTQ community

Republican Scott Parkinson falsely claims pedophiles are part of LGBTQ community

By Jesse Valentine - February 06, 2024
Oregon representative compared supporting LGBTQ+ people to supporting child abuse

Oregon representative compared supporting LGBTQ+ people to supporting child abuse

By Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle - January 31, 2024
AJ News
Latest
Republican Eric Hovde makes inconsistent statements about family history

Republican Eric Hovde makes inconsistent statements about family history

By Jesse Valentine - February 26, 2024
Republican David McCormick invests millions in website that platforms Holocaust denial

Republican David McCormick invests millions in website that platforms Holocaust denial

By Jesse Valentine - February 09, 2024
Lawmakers will again take up bills expanding, tightening gun laws

Lawmakers will again take up bills expanding, tightening gun laws

By Annmarie Timmins, New Hampshire Bulletin - January 31, 2024
UAW delivers rousing presidential endorsement for Biden over ‘scab’ Trump

UAW delivers rousing presidential endorsement for Biden over ‘scab’ Trump

By Ashley Murray, States Newsroom - January 24, 2024
Republicans Sam Brown and Jeff Gunter sling mud in Nevada senate primary

Republicans Sam Brown and Jeff Gunter sling mud in Nevada senate primary

By Jesse Valentine - January 17, 2024
A Young Texas Woman Almost Died Due To The Texas Abortion Bans – Now She’s Battling To Save Other Women

A Young Texas Woman Almost Died Due To The Texas Abortion Bans – Now She’s Battling To Save Other Women

By Bonnie Fuller - January 10, 2024
Health care legislation preview: Maryland advocates want to focus on access, patients in 2024 session

Health care legislation preview: Maryland advocates want to focus on access, patients in 2024 session

By Danielle J. Brown, Maryland Matters - January 08, 2024
How GOP senate hopefuls try to excuse the  January 6 insurrection

How GOP senate hopefuls try to excuse the  January 6 insurrection

By Jesse Valentine - January 05, 2024
NH lawmakers will be taking up major voting bills this year. Here are some to watch for.

NH lawmakers will be taking up major voting bills this year. Here are some to watch for.

By Ethan DeWitt, New Hampshire Bulletin - January 04, 2024
Republican US Senate candidates want to make Trump’s tax cuts permanent 

Republican US Senate candidates want to make Trump’s tax cuts permanent 

By Jesse Valentine - December 22, 2023
Rand Paul went all in on the Kentucky governor’s race. It didn’t work.

Rand Paul went all in on the Kentucky governor’s race. It didn’t work.

By - December 15, 2023
Texas governor and attorney general do little to curb state’s chemical plant crisis

Texas governor and attorney general do little to curb state’s chemical plant crisis

By Jesse Valentine - December 08, 2023
Likely GOP Senate candidate Eric Hovde proposed tax hike for poorer workers and retirees

Likely GOP Senate candidate Eric Hovde proposed tax hike for poorer workers and retirees

By Jesse Valentine - December 07, 2023
Whitmer signs specific criminal penalties for assaulting health care workers into law

Whitmer signs specific criminal penalties for assaulting health care workers into law

By Anna Liz Nichols, Michigan Advance - December 06, 2023
105 Republicans voted to expel Santos for things Trump has also done

105 Republicans voted to expel Santos for things Trump has also done

By Jesse Valentine - December 05, 2023
For Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another Trump term is another chance to kill Obamacare

For Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another Trump term is another chance to kill Obamacare

By Jesse Valentine - December 04, 2023
Florida Sen. Rick Scott backs Donald Trump in revived push to repeal Obamacare

Florida Sen. Rick Scott backs Donald Trump in revived push to repeal Obamacare

By Jesse Valentine - November 30, 2023
Tate Reeves took donations from power company that hiked customer rates

Tate Reeves took donations from power company that hiked customer rates

By Jesse Valentine - November 06, 2023
Daniel Cameron ran on depoliticizing the Kentucky AG’s office. He made it more political.

Daniel Cameron ran on depoliticizing the Kentucky AG’s office. He made it more political.

By Jesse Valentine - November 03, 2023
Republican operatives sound every alarm on current trajectory of 2023 governor’s race

Republican operatives sound every alarm on current trajectory of 2023 governor’s race

By Adam Ganucheau, Mississippi Today - October 24, 2023
Follow the money: Tim Sheehy takes thousands from drug company lobbyists

Follow the money: Tim Sheehy takes thousands from drug company lobbyists

By Jesse Valentine - February 29, 2024
Judge behind Alabama embryo ruling has ties to Ted Cruz

Judge behind Alabama embryo ruling has ties to Ted Cruz

By Jesse Valentine - February 29, 2024
Telehealth abortions on the rise since Dobbs, new report shows

Telehealth abortions on the rise since Dobbs, new report shows

By Sofia Resnick, States Newsroom - February 28, 2024
Utah lawmakers want to repeal abortion clinic ban hoping it will speed up trigger law case

Utah lawmakers want to repeal abortion clinic ban hoping it will speed up trigger law case

By Katie McKellar, Utah News Dispatch - February 27, 2024
Republican Bernie Moreno opposes existence of minimum wage

Republican Bernie Moreno opposes existence of minimum wage

By Jesse Valentine - February 23, 2024