Officer suspended for online post about protest

Officer suspended for online post about protest
David Hogg

A veteran police officer in Florida was suspended for five days without pay on Tuesday after the officer posted a comment on social media last week about a protest organized by Parkland shooting survivor and activist David Hogg.

Coconut Creek Officer Brian Valenti, a K-9 handler, wrote he hoped “some old lady looses [sic] control of her car in that lot. Jus sayin…,” in the comments of a news story about a “die-in” protest at a Publix parking lot in Coral Springs, Coconut Creek police said Tuesday. Hogg, a survivor of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 people were killed, was one of several people shown in a photo accompanying the story.

Students drew outlines of 17 bodies in chalk in the parking lot. Hogg called for the “die-in” at the grocery chain to protest its support for a Florida gubernatorial candidate backed by the National Rifle Association.

Valenti was suspended for violating rules on the personal use of social media, Coconut Creek Chief Albert “Butch” Arenal said in a news release. Arenal said Valenti showed “poor judgment.” Hogg on Tuesday called for the officer to apologize on social media.

The officer, in a statement on Tuesday, publicly expressed remorse for the post.

“Officer Valenti is accepting of the suspension and is not going to fight it,” said Rod Skirvin, vice president of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association. “He wishes to extend an apology to the Hogg family and any family that was offended by his comment. He realizes his comments were insensitive and deeply regrets what he has done.”

Hogg calls for a public apology

Hogg on Tuesday called for Valenti to “publicly apologize on Twitter and release a video showing that saying these things doesn’t get us anywhere,” according to a report on CNN affiliate WSVN.

“Police officers are supposed to be the people that protect and serve our community, not hate and perpetrate violence like he was kind of advocating for on there,” Hogg said. “That’s just disgusting.”

Hogg said people who make comments like the officer’s post, “don’t understand what we’re actually trying to advocate for here. I’m for sensible gun legislation. I’m not anti-gun. I’m not trying to take your guns away.”

Valenti posted the comment Friday, Arenal said. Arenal said he learned of the remark the next day. The department’s command staff was immediately directed to contact Valenti, who expressed remorse and had already taken the post down, the chief said.

“As chief of police, I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by Officer Valenti’s post,” Arenal said. “I am accountable for the actions of all employees who work the police department. A law enforcement officer is always held to a higher standard, as each one should be.”

Valenti also asked to reach out directly to “die-in” organizers to apologize, Arenal said.

Valenti has spent 23 years with the Coconut Creek Police Department and has an “an exemplary service record,” the chief said.

Arenal said Valenti’s “mistakes were inappropriate. They were not professional,” according to the WSVN report.

“This is one person, who had a lapse in judgment. He made an error … and we have fixed that error,” the chief said, according to the station.

Arenal said Valenti will also be required to attend sensitivity training to remain an employee.

“If I or any member of the city of Coconut Creek had any reason to believe that Officer Valenti’s comment was truly a threat against the safety and well-being of another individual, his employment would be terminated,” Arenal said.

After the Parkland shooting, one of Arenal’s officers found suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz, a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, walking on the side of the road wearing clothes matching the suspect’s description. Cruz, 19, faces numerous charges, including murder. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.

Hogg, who has more than 800,000 Twitter followers, emerged as an activist and one of the most vocal survivors of the shooting. He and other Marjory Stoneman Douglas students organized one of the largest youth-led protests when they led March for Our Lives rallies in Washington and across the country earlier this year. The students’ #NeverAgain movement has raised millions of dollars, won praise, attracted celebrity support and pushed the issue of gun control into the national spotlight.