A Harris County council on Tuesday confirmed the dismissal of a sheriff's deputy who shared two racist posts on a private Facebook group called "White Privilege Club".
The sheriff's office has closed the former Det. The employment of James Thomas this year after investigating his behavior on social media, resulting from a letter from a group of investigators reporting the allegations, the attorney for assisted county Graylon Wells said.
After two investigations, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez denied a first reinstatement appeal, and on Tuesday the Sheriff's Civil Service Commission ruled in line with the head of the agency.
"No one forced James Thomas to do those posts," Wells said at the hearing. "James Thomas made some decisions, he did some actions and it's a learning lesson for him. But he shouldn't be forced to the sheriff. He can learn his lesson and go somewhere else."
During the appeal hearing, Thomas and his lawyer emphasized the ever-changing dangers and nature of social media, while denying that the posts were outwardly racist. Wells replied that Thomas should not be reinstated because his online behavior broke the policies of the professionalism department.
Bob Thomas, general counsel for the Harris County Deputies & # 39; Organization, also questioned the way the issue came to light. A journalist who works for "Reveal", a non-profit news organization through the Center for Investigative Reports, sent a letter in December 2018 with his findings to Gonzalez.
"I don't think the career of this man should be destroyed because a journalist or a person with a political agenda is trying to destroy the credibility of the orderly forces in the community," said Bob Thomas.
Thomas, who joined the department in 2008, said he was associated with the Facebook group in June 2017, when he went to the page to find out more about an incident when the group administrator would drive a motorcycle through a crowd in San Francisco to protest a health care account backed by the GOP.
The former detective said he clicked "like" on an article published on the White Privilege Club page. He inadvertently became a member of the group when he changed his privacy settings from a community, or from a public group to a private one, he said.
Bob Thomas said his client didn't know he was posting in a closed group. The page has apparently become more racist when privacy settings have changed, he said.
A Facebook user called "JT Thomas", who had photos on his personal page that were associated with the Harris County Sheriff's Office, shared his first post on the White Privilege Club in August 2017. Ha read, "Seriously, why", with an attached picture of the Hall of Fame emblem from Black Football College, Wells said. Thomas, the former Member, said the post was to stimulate the debate, because he does not believe that there should be any segregation in sport.
The second post, just a month later, said: "In line with the chicken theme", attached to the image of a black woman. The image contained a text that said: "A journalist asked a lady how many churches had their doors open during the storm. She said she didn't know, eat at Popeyes," according to Wells.
The second post was during Hurricane Harvey. Thomas said he thought it was funny because of puns and that one of the first restaurants to open near his home after the hurricane was a Popeyes.
Wells said the post referred to a stereotype that blacks like chicken.
"I don't see him as racist," Thomas said.
Thomas "didn't respect" the group at some point, which means that the group's posts don't appear on his Facebook timeline on a daily basis, he said. However, he did not completely withdraw from the group, because he was still a member when he was approached by the sheriff's office staff who are investigating places.
Thomas, the lawyer, said that he and his client are not in agreement with the commission's decision, but he knows it would be a difficult case to appeal.
The commission is composed of three members who hear appeals to ensure fair treatment of sheriffs and former employees.
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