San Diego police investigate a claim that officer’s social media post made light of memorial for man he fatally shot
San Diego police have launched an internal investigation into allegations that an officer posted a photo on social media that appeared to make light of a makeshift memorial for a man who was fatally shot by the officer and a partner in late June.
San Diego police spokesman Lt. Shawn Takeuchi said the department fielded complaints Thursday last week via social media about the Instagram photo allegedly posted by Officer Jonathon Lucas. Takeuchi said Police Chief David Nisleit immediately ordered an internal investigation into the matter.
Lucas, a Central Division patrol officer who has been on the force for about four years, was placed on administrative duty.
The allegations are linked to the death of 25-year-old Leonardo Ibarra, who was fatally shot by Lucas and another officer, Tevar Zaki, in downtown San Diego on June 27.
Police said the officers recognized Ibarra as a robbery suspect when he walked out of a building on Sixth Avenue carrying a plastic shopping bag. The officers told him to stop, but he dropped the bag and started to run. He then pulled out a gun from his waistband and pointed it at one of the officers, police said.
The shooting drew intense scrutiny amid local and national protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Last month, protesters who took to the streets in downtown San Diego visited the shooting site and memorial for Ibarra.
Following the shooting, Lucas was placed on administrative leave while police investigated the incident. He was later placed on administrative duty before being allowed to return to patrol duties, Takeuchi said.
A screenshot of the photo at the center of the allegations under investigation — an image that has been shared on social media by activists and organizations including United Against Police Terror San Diego — show the makeshift memorial for Ibarra: candles and handmade signs, including one that reads, “Justice 4 Leo.”
Written over the image are "#Eastside” and emojis that depict a series of faces laughing and crying out tears and faces with open mouths wailing, with streams of tears flowing from closed eyes.
It’s unclear what the hashtag refers to.
A second screenshot shows the private Instagram account that posted the photo. United Against Police Terror and others circulating the two screenshots allege the account belongs to Lucas. The account’s “biography” promoted a healthy lifestyle for cops.
A search for the username tied to the account, which did not reference Lucas’ name, turned up empty on Instagram on Monday.
Cat Mendonca of United Against Police Terror San Diego, an organization that exposes alleged police misconduct and use of excessive force, said an Instagram user who wanted to remain anonymous shared the photo with the organization. The user was following the account that posted the photo and said it belonged to Lucas, Mendonca said.
Takeuchi said the internal-affairs investigation would determine whether Lucas posted the photo and, if so, whether it violated department policies.
“We hold all officers to a high standard, including conduct that is done off duty or on personal social media accounts,” the lieutenant said.
According to a department policy, officers who use social media “shall adhere to conduct that does not reflect negatively on the (police) department or the city.”
The policy reminds officers that “insensitive, biased-based or derogatory comments may have adverse consequences,” including negative effects on the operations of the department. The policy prohibits “speech or expression that, while not made pursuant to an official duty, is significantly linked, or related, to the police department and tends to compromise or damage the mission, function, reputation, operations or professionalism of the police department or its employees.”
Hernandez writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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