Fla. officer fired over 'KKK' Twitter bio
A university police officer was fired after an investigation concluded her Twitter bio could harm the agency's reputation
By Divya Kumar
Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla.
TAMPA, Fla. — A University of South Florida police officer was fired after an investigation concluded her racist Twitter bio could harm the reputation of the police department.
Presley Garcia, an officer hired in 2018, was placed under investigation in early July after a BayNews 9 reporter contacted the police department with screenshots of the Twitter account “@presleyyyg,” which has since been deleted.
The account’s bio read “KKK member.”
Garcia, 26, was fired last week, and said she felt let down by the agency. But more than anything else, she said, she wanted people to know she is not racist and condemns racism and the KKK.
“There’s all the talk of ‘Back the Blue,’ but not one person had my back,” she said. “I feel helpless and like I’m drowning. No one was willing to just listen to my story, and I feel like the university was just trying to cover their butts. ... That’s not something I believe in. That’s not how I was raised.”
In his letter to Human Resources, recommending the office dismiss her, USF Police Chief Chris Daniel wrote that in the current climate, Garcia’s actions — or inactions in adequately scrubbing her social media of racist language — could bring harm to the image of other officers.
“If, despite her self-indicated alignment with the KKK, Officer Garcia were to continue her employment as a law enforcement officer, it is reasonable to expect protests and other demonstrations that could disrupt operations of this department and threaten the safety of her co-workers,” Daniel wrote. “This concern is of particular importance given the activities occurring on a local and national level. Since the incident involving George Floyd, dissident members of the community have targeted law enforcement officers, their departments, their families and their homes.”
Daniel wrote that USF police officers have experienced having their doors kicked, vehicles photographed in their driveways and been followed to work while being “antagonized on the roadway” in recent months.
According to the letter, Garcia acknowledged the account belonged to her, but said a friend put the phrase in the Twitter bio in 2015. At the time, they were young and did not know what it meant, she said. Garcia was 21 at the time.
Garcia told investigators she did not know anything about Twitter other than trying to log in once to delete it, the letter said. She said she deleted the app on her phone and thought the account would expire as well.
The investigation found Garcia had been active on Twitter between November 2015 and January 2016.
Garcia told the Tampa Bay Times she no longer speaks to the friend who altered her bio. She said she asked the person to delete it at the time, but the friend laughed and did not comply.
“The agency failed me,” Garcia said. “It’s very hurtful that something from a long time ago that I didn’t even do has completely destroyed my career. ... There’s no way I’d ever be a part of that group. I wasn’t raised that way.”
Investigators asked Garcia why this didn’t come up during her pre-employment background interview and she said she told officials at the time she didn’t have a Twitter account because she had forgotten about it and thought it had been deleted.
The letter stated that no tie to the Ku Klux Klan was discovered and “a review of demographics linked to her self-initiated police activities” did not give reason for concern: 46 percent of the people she made contact with were white, 17.11 were Hispanic and 14.4 were Black. A 2019 performance evaluation in Garcia’s personnel file noted “she is polite and treats all individuals she meets in the diverse community we serve equally.”
Daniel said in the letter that the situation was challenging because the agency seeks to strike a balance between allowing officers freedom in their private lives and ensuring appropriate off-duty conduct.
“As we work through the details, I can appreciate the perceived softening effects brought forth by the span of time between the creation of the account and her date of hire as a police officer, the lack of use of the account since January 2016, the alleged insertion of a friend and not by Garcia (and) no linkage of Garcia with her employment as a USF police officer in the Twitter account,” he wrote.
Still, Daniel wrote, “the nexus was clearly established” by the BayNews 9 report.
“Moreover, since the time we became aware of the issue, at least three other media organizations have reported the story, exacerbating the impact of her actions,” he wrote.
The perception, he said, could be harmful to the department.
“In the eyes of the public, actions of one member easily translate to the entire organization,” Daniel wrote. “From the time when the media posted the article relating to Officer Garcia, we have noticed several statements on social media in which prior victims of crimes are asserting their criminal complaints were not thoroughly investigated because we have a ‘racist cop’. While not true, these sentiments cast a shadow of doubt across the entire agency, causing the very professional officers to work even harder to maintain the confidence of our community.”
He wrote that public perception is of increased importance now and that Garcia had created “significant and irreversible reputational harm upon herself, in this profession.”
“Unfortunately, we will never truly understand what was in her head or in her heart at the time the phrase became publicly displayed in her Twitter profile,” Daniel wrote. “We will never truly know why the phrase remained visible for several years, why she never made vigorous attempts to remove it, and why she failed to disclose the account at her time of employment. ... The moment “KKK Member” appeared (on) her Twitter page, her ability to be fair and just toward others became subject to strict scrutiny in every aspect of her professional life.”
In his letter to Garcia, informing her of her termination, Daniel informed Garcia that she had 30 days to file a grievance with the university or the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents officers.
Garcia said she thought about it, but did not wish to do so after feeling like she wasn’t listened to during the investigation.
“I feel like I go back there, I won’t be treated well,” she said. “I have a life to live and a career to move forward somehow too.”
Daniel closed the letter of termination by expressing disappointment. “I regret that your situation has made this step necessary,” he wrote.
©2020 the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.)