Two former McIntosh County, Ga., sheriff's deputies were caught in a social media scandal in which an internal-affairs investigation uncovered racist and sexist messages they exchanged on Facebook, including one message that appeared to show an effort to target black motorists, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
One officer was terminated, while the other officer abruptly resigned following the investigation. Both officers, who are white, worked on the department's special traffic unit that patrols Interstate 95.
According to the AJC, which reviewed records, one message referred to "colored" people, while another used the n-word.
Another message showed an image of Martin Luther King Jr. and made a mockery of his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
“I have a dream. That one day my people will not act like animals,” Brant Gaither, the officer who was fired on July 25, wrote, according to authorities.
"Lol. That'll never happen," Jeremy Owens, the officer who resigned the day after Gaither was fired, responded, officials said. Owens had previously worked in the sheriff's office but was a police officer in Darien, Ga., at the time.
At one point, the duo seemed to talk about their policing habits on the highways, with Owens writing, "It's supposed to rain tomorrow. Might not get too many [n—gs]."
"I hope to get a few but [expletive] if we don't," Gaither responded.
According to the AJC, the messages have caught the attention of the Southern Center for Human Rights, which sent a lawyer to the county last week to interview people, looking for information from possible witnesses who may have interacted with the deputies or have knowledge of the department's policing practices.
“This case goes deeper than two officers caught using racist language on their personal social media pages,” Sarah Geraghty, the center's managing attorney for impact litigation said, according to the AJC. “The messages reference an explicit intent by these law-enforcement officials to ‘get’ black motorists. Our investigation to date suggests that this may be the tip of the iceberg.”
The center is preparing a formal request for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, Geraghty told the site.
Sheriff Stephen D. Jessup said that the messages were discovered back in July when another deputy was issued Owens' old computer, which still had access to his Facebook account.
Jessup said that the messages made him "want to throw up."
“There was never any question of what I needed to do and I did it,” Jessup said. “I do not tolerate that in my department.”
According to the AJC, when Gaither learned that he was being terminated, he told Jessup, "It was just a joke; we all do it."
“There is no joke about something like that. Period,” Jessup said. “It’s total racism.”
The local solicitor has reportedly notified Jessup that some of the cases involving Owens and Gaither may be dismissed. Jessup said he is fully in support of that.
The sheriff said that he has no knowledge of his department targeting black motorists and "there better not be."
“I wouldn’t tolerate it. If I found out about it I would fire them and prosecute them," he said.
Read more at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.