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CHP chief investigated over transphobic Facebook post about Caitlyn Jenner

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California Highway Patrol Chief Mark Garrett speaks during a news conference in February.
(California Highway Patrol)

A California Highway Patrol chief is under investigation after sharing a post on social media that demeaned transgender star Caitlyn Jenner and her gender transition.

The investigation into Chief Mark Garrett was initiated Monday after a Times reporter showed officials at CHP headquarters a message that the veteran highway patrol supervisor posted on his personal Facebook page.

The entry, which Garrett posted in April 2017, shows a photo of Jenner that is overlaid with a transphobic and vulgar message. In bold type on Jenner’s image, it reads, “Anyone who says I’m not a lady can,” and then suggests the reader perform a sex act.

Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, underwent sex reassignment surgery in January 2017 and transitioned to become Caitlyn Jenner, a trans woman. The former Olympic decathlon champion and parent of Kylie and Kendall Jenner of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” fame has become one of the public faces of the transgender community.

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When confronted about the post, Garrett initially said he did not remember it.

“I have no recollection of it,” he said. “I am on Facebook very rarely.… If I shared it, I shared.”

He later acknowledged that he knew the woman who originally posted the image but said he did not recall sharing it or notice the comments that several of his friends added further demeaning transgender people.

Garrett said the posting doesn’t “reflect how I feel” or the department’s values.

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“That was a personal Facebook page, and it has nothing to do with the CHP,” said Garrett, the chief of the Los Angeles-area CHP.

The department has launched an investigation into the post and denounced the image. The probe comes as prosecutors are reviewing whether CHP officers in the East L.A. station broke the law following an announcement in February by Garrett that dozens of officers had been relieved of duty amid falsified overtime allegations.

“While the post in question appeared on a personal Facebook page, which CHP policy does not specifically address, the post is not consistent with the department’s organizational values,” spokeswoman Fran Clader said.

“The CHP is an organization of inclusiveness, and any posts made on an employee’s personal social media page do not reflect the diversity, views and background of the more than 11,000 men and women of the California Highway Patrol who work for this department.”

The Times attempted to contact Garrett on Tuesday and received an automated reply stating the chief would be out of the office through June 25.

Julie Callahan, the founder of the TCops International — Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs, said the posting “is obviously offensive and vulgar.”

But Callahan, a retired San Jose police detective, said the greater problem is the larger message it sends because it was posted by a police leader.

“It is of concern because he has transgender officers in his area,” she said. She added that she has counted a dozen executive-level cops who have lost their positions over things they shared on social media.

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While the CHP says it has no specific policy on personal social media use by officers, many police agencies have adopted strict guidelines on online activity. The New York Police Department disciplined 17 officers in 2012 over offensive comments about a West Indian American Day parade.

A court of appeal last year, in upholding a five-day suspension for a Los Angeles police officer for a remark he wrote on Facebook, said the LAPD had the right to discipline him for his online conduct.

Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County deputy and legal advisor, said he is surprised the CHP doesn’t have a personal social media policy in place, because it is probably the hottest issue in internal affairs.

“That is the best practices standard in the industry to have a clear social media policy for officers’ personal usage,” he said. Obayashi said that given the role of social media, officers need to understand what they should not post.

Obayashi said comments of discriminatory nature undermine the very job officers do. “Regardless of officers having 1st Amendment rights, whether on or off duty, 1st Amendment considerations have to be balanced against the legitimate department need to be impartial.”

In recent years, agencies have struggled with officers’ use of social media. In North Charleston, S.C., a police officer was fired for posting a photo of himself wearing Confederate flag underwear. The post was discovered in the wake of the killing of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist. The officer sued over his termination and was awarded a settlement.

A Philadelphia attorney has launched an extensive examination of the private social media accounts of nearly 3,000 law enforcement officers from eight departments nationwide. The resulting database is intended to show how hundreds of racist or bigoted comments and images from officers’ posts undermine the public trust, the project’s website says.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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Twitter: @lacrimes


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