Shelby Twp. top cop apologizes over online posts attacking protesters

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Shelby Township police chief Robert J. Shelide apologized and was placed on a leave of absence Thursday as officials investigated inflammatory internet posts that have been attributed to him, including one calling for "body bags" for "vicious subhumans" involved in recent demonstrations over the death of George Floyd.

Shelby Township Police Chief Robert Shelide

Township Trustee John Vermeulen said during a special board meeting Thursday afternoon, the matter “was discussed and it was agreed that he would be put on an administrative leave — a paid leave” pending an investigation.

Vermeulen said he agreed with his board colleagues on the leave but has “high confidence” in Shelide.

“He’s been a police officer since 18, he’s worked in Detroit, he had a meteoric rise in Southfield and helped modernize our department," Vermeulen said. "I know he is very well-respected by the community and by his fellow officers.”

Shelide, who has been Shelby Township’s police chief since 2015, released a statement Thursday in which he apologized. 

“While an apology is insufficient and an insult to the gravity of my comments, I humbly and respectfully ask for the courtesy of forgiveness to those I have offended, to my department and more importantly to those I am sworn to serve,” he wrote.

Shelide could not be reached for comment Thursday and his secretary referred The News to Brad Bates, the township’s director of communications, for any official township response. Bates did not immediately return several voicemails. Other calls also went unanswered by Township Supervisor Rick Stathakis.

An unsigned statement on the township police website Thursday said:

“We have been made aware of some recent posts being attributed to our Chief. The Township is looking into it now. Please have patience with us while we find out what is happening. Thank you.”

At issue are Facebook and Twitter remarks responding to Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests. Neither post is attributed directly to Shelide but instead from a “BobbyS” or “Sheepdawg711,” reportedly pseudonyms used by Shelide, with the following remarks:

“Trump threatening to deploy the military. I have a better idea. Unleash real cops and let them take care of the barbarians. I promise it will be over in 24 hours. Cops are crippled by politicians and the media.”

In another post, “Sheepdawg” commented: “Wild savages. I wish to God I would have been there. Body bags for these vicious subhumans.”

The "Sheepdawg" Twitter account had been deactivated as of Thursday afternoon but had links to Sheilde that could indicate they were secret accounts. “Sheepdawg” or “Sheepdog” is a metaphor or slang for someone who watches over others (sheep) and knows violence is sometimes necessary to protect sheep from wolves.

Shelide, a veteran police officer, has a good reputation within the Metro Detroit law enforcement community, having served as a highly-decorated officer in Detroit and Southfield before joining Shelby Township.

He is a past president of the Southeast Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police and in 2019, the Police Officers Association of Michigan named the township police chief  “Administrator of the Year.”

Vermeulen said as far as he’s concerned, Shelide is “innocent until proven guilty.” He said the township attorney, Robert Huth, suggested the investigation be done by an outside attorney or law firm still to be determined.

“Huth said he talked with the chief and he has also agreed with this (leave),” Vermeulen said. “Huth said there was no discussion with Shelide on what he may or may not have done.”

A deputy chief will serve as acting chief in the interim, Vermeulen said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in the chief’s behavior,” the trustee said. “This is completely out of character. He’s very professional and bonds with victims. This is very surprising.”

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Associated Press contributed.