Detroit sergeant reassigned after controversial post

George Hunter
The Detroit News

A black Detroit police sergeant has been reassigned and is under investigation after posting a message on Facebook suggesting he supports African-Americans over fellow cops — “be we armed or not. Wrong or right.”

Sgt. Kerry Petties has been removed from the 8th Precinct Special Operations unit after his post last week, Chief James Craig said Thursday.

The Facebook post is one of two by Detroit officers being investigated in the wake of recent national events that have heightened tensions between African-Americans and police. Videos captured officer-involved killings in Minnesota and Louisiana, sparking nationwide protests. In Dallas, a sniper killed five officers as a protest was ending.

Detective Nathaniel Weekley, who is white, was demoted and reassigned from the Sex Crimes unit last week after he wrote on Facebook following the Dallas killings that members of Black Lives Matter and their supporters were racist.

Craig said Petties hasn’t yet been demoted because his job classification is different than Weekley’s.

“I can say both officers have been placed on restricted duty, and there’s an investigation into both posts,” Craig said.

Weekley’s position was an appointed rank, making it easier to demote him, Craig said. Disciplinary action against Petties has to go through civil service due process.

Craig said he expects the investigations to be completed within 30 days.

In the post under the screen name “Kerry Petties Muhammad,” the sergeant last week expressed anger over what he said were differences in the way police deal with black and white armed suspects.

Petties, the recipient of a 2014 Detroit Police Sergeants and Lieutenants Association Leadership Award, did not reply to a request seeking comment.

“And you (expletives) are mad at Jesse Williams,” Petties began his post, referring to an actor who complained during a recent awards show that blacks are treated differently by police than whites.

“The proof is right in your damn faces. A White boy walks into a house of worship, and commits an act of terrorism, and he’s taken into custody,” Petties wrote in an apparent reference to Dylann Roof, who killed nine African-Americans last year in a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

“Angry ... dysfunctional White men, who’s (sic) lives are (impotent,) fruitless and dry in the face of all the damn privileges that White America provides for them, they kill at will and again are taken into custody,” Petties wrote.

“Militia men, openly declare war on the government, and American society! The Police local, State and Federal show up and don’t do a damn thing.... ‘Let’s sit, Let’s talk, Let’s wait.’ This is the (expletive) strategy used to deal with clearly armed, aggressive, and violent White men.

“The Black man! It seems to not matter the situation for ‘US’? Yes, I am a AMERICAN POLICE OFFICER, and I said ‘US.’ I am FIRST AND FOREMOST a Black man, living in America. Be we armed or not. Wrong or right. Rich or poor.”

The post has since been removed from Petties’ Facebook wall.

Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Bell, former president of the national Black Police Officers Association, and a Detroit cop from 1971 to 2003, said he understands African-American officers sympathizing with black citizens, but added they should never support criminals of any race.

“You function as a police officer who happens to be black,” said Bell, who worked in the years after the 1967 riot to integrate the police department, and called for officers to be more sensitive to the African-American community.

“As a black police officer, first and foremost, you carry out your responsibility to uphold the law,” Bell said. You are sensitive to the people you interact with, and are concerned about what’s happening in the black community, because you can relate to those issues. But never to the extent where you overlook lawbreakers.”

Craig, who was on the Los Angeles police force during the 1992 riot after the acquittal of white police officers who were videotaped beating black motorist Rodney King, declined to comment on the content of Petties’ post because of the investigation.

But he said that during times of racial strife, black and white police officers should remember they’re cops first.

“We have an oath of office, and we’re sworn to protect all people,” he said. “A perfect example is during the Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, where the officers were sworn to protect those protestors, and they did their best to protect them.”

He said police are even obligated to protect freedom of speech of groups such as the KKK if they were to do a march.

Craig said governments have the right to restrict the speech of public employees and his department has a social media policy that restricts officers from posting “anything that would undermine the department’s relationship with the community.”

“The policy also prohibits anyone from posting things that would contribute to a hostile work environment,” he said.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN