Fla. officer suspended over Facebook comment about David Hogg

K-9 Officer Brian Valenti is being suspended for five days and will be required to undergo sensitivity training

By Susannah Bryan
Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Brian Valenti, the Coconut Creek K-9 officer who posted a comment on Facebook that triggered public outrage, is being suspended for five days and will be required to undergo sensitivity training, the department said Tuesday.

Valenti told Police Chief Butch Arenal he regretted posting a comment saying he hoped Parkland activist David Hogg would get hit by a car during Friday’s protest at Publix. The 23-year veteran told his supervisors it was meant as a joke, but he now realizes it was not funny.

He told the chief he plans to apologize in person to Hogg and other organizers of the event.

Hogg said Tuesday, “Cops are meant to protect and serve communities, not spread hate and violence among them.”

Arenal’s decision on how to reprimand his officer came quickly, just three days after he found out about the post.

“After careful consideration of the adverse impact Officer Valenti’s Facebook post may have had on any of the individuals involved, his deep regret for making the comment, and the damage inflicted upon the Coconut Creek Police Department’s reputation, I have decided to suspend Officer Valenti for a period of five days without pay,” Arenal said Tuesday.

Valenti’s salary was not immediately available.

The “poor judgment” of one officer should not reflect on the department as a whole, the chief said.

“Our officers have walked alongside Parkland students providing security during protests, have attended and assisted with events and vigils in Parkland to show solidarity with our kids, and our amazing employees have gone above and beyond the call of duty to be there for our community in a time of need,” he said.

Coconut Creek apparently does not want another incident like this one.

According to the chief, City Hall is requiring all employees to receive refresher training on the use of social media in the near future.

People nationwide had called for Valenti to be suspended or fired over the comment saying he hoped “some old lady loses control of her car in that lot.”

Valenti later deleted the post, but not before a woman who lives out of state spotted it and sent an email and screenshot to the chief.

“Whether someone agrees with these students or not, it is in very poor taste for a police officer to make the following comment regarding students that have just been through a tragic shooting,” Kim Simonson wrote.

Michael Rajner, a human rights activist from Wilton Manors lending support to the #NeverAgain movement, said Hogg has suggested the officer post a video apology on Twitter.

Rajner said he himself was outraged by the Facebook post. Yet he said he still believes in what he called teachable moments.

“I just hope the sensitivity training is something that’s comprehensive and covers how law enforcement deals with people of color, LGBT people and the mentally ill,” he said.

Hogg, who helped start the #NeverAgain movement after the Feb. 14 shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, organized last Friday’s anti-NRA event at Publix.

The protests centered on the chain’s donations to gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, a self-proclaimed “proud #NRASellout.” Minutes before the protest began, Publix announced it was suspending future political contributions.

A story and photo of the protest appeared on a Coral Springs/Parkland page on Facebook. Posts started coming in attacking Hogg, including the one from Valenti.

Rod Skirvin, a union leader and recently retired Coconut Creek detective, described Valenti as “distraught” over the incident.

©2018 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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