A San Jose police officer did not commit a crime when he ridiculed protesters on his personal Twitter account and threatened to shoot anyone who threatened him or his family, Santa Clara County prosecutors concluded Thursday.
Though Officer Philip White’s Twitter account has since been deleted, his controversial tweets on Dec. 14 were captured by BuzzFeed and the San Jose Mercury News. Among them:
"Threaten me or my family and I will use my God given and law appointed right and duty to kill you. #CopsLivesMatter"
"By the way if anyone feels they can't breathe or their lives matter I'll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun."
Though County Dist. Atty. Jeff Rosen noted in a statement that White’s tweets were “inappropriate and unprofessional,” just saying “something disturbing” without it being an intentional and specifically aimed threat is not a crime. Even though White’s statements were in response to tweets at him, prosecutors “failed to find anyone who specifically felt threatened” by them, officials said.
San Jose police command staff also distanced themselves from White’s comments once they were found.
“It is extremely important for the community to know the comments made on Officer White’s private social media account do not reflect the thoughts or feelings of the men and women here at the San Jose Police Department,” Chief Larry Esquivel said in a statement. “Nor do we condone this type of behavior.”
White has been suspended and placed on paid administrative leave.
In the last few months as protests have spread across the nation over the deaths of unarmed black men by white police officers, White appeared to mock the protesters’ behavior on Twitter. As protesters used the phrase #BlackLivesMatter on social media, he used #CopsLivesMatter.
The "can't breathe" reference played off demonstrators' chant of "I can't breathe," the last words of Eric Garner, who died after a New York police officer took him to the ground with a chokehold. A medical examiner determined Garner died because of the choking, along with other medical problems.
In a statement, the San Jose Police Officers’ Assn. also condemned White’s tweets.
“Offensive, disrespectful and inappropriate social media comments have no place in the public discourse surrounding the tragic loss of life from recent officer-involved incidents,” the statement read. “We condemn these comments. What the San Jose Police Officers’ Assn. will remain focused on is continuing to foster a positive dialogue and positive relationships with the community we are sworn to protect and serve.”
Protests have sprouted up in Oakland, Los Angeles, New York and other metropolitan cities since grand juries exonerated officers for Garner’s slaying and Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo.
Although the overwhelming majority of the demonstrations have been peaceful, if disruptive -- protests have shut down major freeways and thoroughfares in L.A. and elsewhere -- some in the crowds have turned violent against police or nearby businesses.
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