Saturday, September 6, 2014
Elgin police officer Jason Lentz makes racially-charged post about Michael Brown shooting on Facebook
ELGIN — A Facebook page post apparently created by an Elgin police officer saying the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who shot and killed a young man last month “did society a favor” has left the officer on administrative leave pending an investigation.
That and other potentially racially-charged posts on Officer Jason Lentz’s personal Facebook page are believed to violate the Police Department’s social media guidelines, officials said. Lentz is the first Elgin officer put on administrative leave relating to comments on a social media site, officials said.
Lentz was officially placed on administrative leave Aug. 26 after another Elgin officer brought the posts to command staff’s attention.
The Aug. 15 Facebook post included a link to a Fox News video entitled “Police Released surveillance footage allegedly showing Michael Brown stealing cigars before.” When posting that link, Lentz added “Hmmm … Innocent victim my ass. Did society a favor” according to a screen capture included in the case file and received through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Courier-News.
The first supervisor asked Lentz to remove the post, documents indicate. Instead, Lentz shortened his caption to “Hmmm…” but did not remove the post as he was instructed to, the reports state.
The administrative leave marks the fourth time that Lentz, a 17-year department veteran, has had his police powers stripped as a in an official action, according to information received through the FOIA request.
Lentz has served from one- to three-day suspensions in the past, including a June suspension for previous posts to Facebook and other concerns, according to information provided by the city of Elgin and the Elgin Police Department.
Unlike a suspension, administrative leave removes the officer from work while still collecting a paycheck. Administrative leave allows the department to fully investigate claims, officials said.
The investigation is in line with the department’s social media policy. That policy, states that officers are prohibited from making comments that would discredit the department, the city or themselves, said Deputy Chief of Police Bill Wolf.
“They need to ensure that they have the trust of the public,” Wolf added. The investigation is expected to take a few weeks. Lentz is allowed both a union representative and an attorney to represent him during the process. Determinations following that investigation can include termination of employment. The Aug. 15 post was not the only Facebook post that concerned police command. A police commander, using the Facebook page of another officer, perused Lentz’s page to determine if other posts rose to a level of concern, the file states. Many did.
On Aug. 4, 2013, Lentz wrote a three-paragraph post regarding his thoughts on political correctness.
“In order to maintain some sense of sanity and security I am going to post this warning to all. I do not believe in political correctness. I believe that the state of this nation is due to everyone being overly PC. What happened to having thick skin?” the post begins.
An Aug. 2013 post berated police agencies for canceling a training session focused on Islam.
“… A police training class is cancelled because of protests from a Muslim civil liberties group. The class title ‘Islamic Awareness as a Counter-Terrorist Strategy.’ Hmmm …another way to thwart law enforcement efforts from learning about threats to our cities and nation,” the post states.
Another post in the past year was a photo of a parent letter to a school, indicating that a child would not attend school on Veterans Day until students attend school on Martin Luther King Day. Lentz remarked “Hell Yeah!!! I think next year I’ll keep the kids home.”
In another Ferguson-related post, on Aug. 17, Lentz posted a photo of Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson standing with a young black man, both of whom are making an “OK” sign with their hands. “He is also in the Chicago Tribune hugging protesters. Just awesome … appears to be the enemy within,” Lentz wrote. According to the Washington Post, the “OK” sign signifies the Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity Johnson was a member of in college.
A total of 11 Facebook posts from the last year were included in the case file.
Lentz’ previous suspensions — in which he was removed from duty for a set number of days without pay — occurred in 2001, 2012 and June.
In the 2001 incident, Lentz and four other officers were disciplined for disparaging comments made about a supervisor while using the Police Department’s in-car computer system. That led to an three-day suspension for Lentz. Other officers received various suspensions for that incident as well.
In 2012, he was given a one-day suspension for refusing to appear as a witness in court. In that case, Lentz told a supervisor and an assistant Kane County states attorney that as he was set to fly out for vacation the day he was needed in court, he would not attend.
His supervisor at the time assured the State’s Attorney’s office that Lentz would be there, but Lentz did not appear, his discipline files states. Had the defense attorney in that case not stipulated to Lentz’s testimony, the states attorney said in an email, the suspect may not have been convicted for the 2010 rape and beating of a 74-year-old Elgin woman.
Also considered in the 2012 suspension was an inappropriate email Lentz sent via his personal cell phone to the entire Police Department, records state.
Then, in March, Lentz is accused of sending an email on the city system with a message that included profanity, and posting an inappropriate message on his Facebook page “indicating the fabrication of police calls for service,” and participating in a messaging conversation on the city’s squad computers referencing the fabrication of police calls.
Lentz’s file also includes written reprimands for behavior while on duty and other investigations that were later dropped for lack of evidence.
In addition to the suspensions and written reprimands, Lentz’s personnel file also includes 56 letters of appreciation. Those “letters of appreciation” can come from either the public or within the department, Wolf said.