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Did town officer resign over Facebook post?

The resignation of a Jonesborough police officer last week may come as a surprise to many in the community.
Public Safety Officer Scottie Greene, who started working for the Jonesborough police department in 2007 and has served as handler for popular police K9 Rio for several years, submitted his letter of resignation March 4.
“For personal reasons, I’ve chosen to leave the Jonesborough police department,” Greene said when he stopped by the Herald & Tribune office one day after submitting his resignation letter. “There’s no hard feelings.”
A review of Greene’s personnel file through an Open Records request filed by the newspaper March 6, revealed his termination from the department was imminent at the time of his resignation.
“I was going to recommend that he be terminated and it was my understanding that would have been approved,” Police Chief Matt Hawkins confirmed when asked about the contents of Greene’s file. “We’re a small agency and we just don’t have time to be fooling with problem employees.”
Greene was disciplined by the department on multiple occasions during his six or so years on the job. At the time he resigned, he was serving a three-day suspension from the department due to the most recent disciplinary issue — a post he made to his personal Facebook page.
According to a memorandum dated Feb. 27, from Maj. Matt Rice to Greene, someone working in the District Attorney’s Office contacted Rice with a complaint about a Facebook post made by Greene “that could be perceived as racist or derogative in nature.”
A concern was raised about how such a comment would affect prosecuting court cases in which Greene was the arresting officer.
According to Rice’s letter, Greene’s post read as follows: “Yes… I know what I ordered.. a black coffee with 4 shots of espresso. No I do not want whip cream on it….yes I said a medium not a Grande you know the one between a small and a large….Yes I know its gonna be strong. Thanks for informing me of this my little nappy dreadlock having dope head…p.s. see you soon.”
In the letter, Rice said he, too, believed the post, which was made Feb. 25, could be perceived as racist and “would negatively affect the public perception of the department…”
In a handwritten response, Greene admitted to making the post, saying it was “aimed at the day-to-day life of a police officer” and was “not intended to offend anyone of any race.”
During another visit to the H&T office March 7, Greene said he understood how such a comment might have been misinterpreted as being racist, but emphatically stated he is in no way racist.
“The community, they all know me. I am not racist,” Greene said. “There’s never been any cases of that with me.”
No race-related incidents are included in Greene’s personnel file and Hawkins confirmed there had not been any such issues with Greene in the past.
Greene said he sat down with Rice to discuss the post after the complaint was received. He called his post “cop humor” and said he accepted the suspension because he understood there was the potential for misperception with the comment.
Greene was under the impression the three-day suspension was the only punishment he would receive, but said he then received a phone call from Rice requesting he meet the police major at Hardee’s for coffee.
“I was given a heads up by Major (Rice) that I was going to get fired,” Greene said. “Major said, ‘I need you to resign.’”
Last month was not the first time Greene had been spoken to by a supervisor about his Facebook posts.
Greene admits he was told by higher-ups that he should not have photos of Rio on this page, but said he doesn’t understand why.
A general department policy states that police personnel are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites such as Facebook “to the degree that their speech does not impair working relationships of this department for which loyalty and confidentiality are important, impede the performance of duties, impair discipline and harmony among coworkers, or negatively affect the public perception of the department.”
Nowhere on his Facebook page, Greene said, does he identify himself as a police officer with the Town of Jonesborough.
Greene’s profile photo on his personal Facebook page shows him in a T-shirt with the word “police” legible on the left side of his chest. He is wearing a baseball cap with what appears to be a logo of a police badge and he is kneeling beside K9 Rio.
In July 2011, Town Operations Manager Craig Ford wrote in a memorandum to Greene that he “shall not place any photographs or written text on your Facebook account or any other computer or cell phone program regarding your position as an officer with the Town of Jonesborough, nor of Rio.”
The memo comes after what authorities deemed to be several violations of the town’s social media policy.
In 2010, Greene was told by a supervisor on at least three occasions — in May, July and October ­— he needed to stop putting work-related information on his Facebook page. In the October incident, Greene was warned to “be cautious, that it could hurt his cases.”
According to printouts of his Facebook page included in his personnel file, Greene once posted a photograph of a bag of marijuana sitting on a scale. Under the picture, Greene noted, “can’t hide skunk weed from Rio.” The photograph garnered 42 comments from Greene and his Facebook friends that gave additional details of the apparent drug bust.
Another post records a tally of the work completed by Greene and Rio, including three arrests. “Stupid stays stupid so I will see them all again,” Greene wrote.
In the 2011 memo listing Ford’s expectations, Ford notes “there will be no room for error” with the rules.
Yet several public posts on Greene’s page in both 2012 and 2013 do appear to be work-related. One, on Feb. 20, names a fellow officer in the department and talks about felony drug busts they made. Another, on Feb. 9, shows K9s Rio and Gregor, referring to them as “Jonesborough’s finest.”
The Feb. 25 post for which Greene was disciplined appears to have been deleted.
Social media posts weren’t the only issues leading to disciplinary action for Greene.
Months after joining the department, in April 2008, he received his first suspension, three days for lying to his supervisors about applying for a job at another agency.
Greene was also punished on several occasions for failing to follow safety protocol while driving a police vehicle.
In 2010, Greene received two suspensions related to letting Rio ride in his personal vehicle, a violation of department policy. They are suspensions Greene willingly accepted, saying there should be “more to life” than riding in a police cruiser for police K9s like Rio.
Also in 2010, Greene served a four-day suspension and was removed from K9 duty for a safety violation in which he ran a red light on the way to a call that was not considered the level of emergency for which traffic laws can be violated. In April 2011, he was disciplined for passing a citizen, on two different occasions, on a double-yellow line when not using lights or sirens.
In a draft memo to Ford and included in the personnel file, Hawkins writes, “…this is clearly a continuation in a history of insubordination and disregard for town policy, agency policy and state law.”
Hawkins goes on to say Greene’s “repeated violations of Tennessee law regarding the operation of emergency vehicles continue to directly threaten the safety and welfare of the community and cannot be further tolerated. It is obvious past disciplinary actions have had no impact on this employee’s actions and I have no reasonable expectation that future disciplinary action will have a different result.”
In the memo, Hawkins recommends Greene be fired. That memo, however, never made it out of draft form. Supervisors opted, instead, to give Greene another chance.
According to his file, Greene got more than one extra chance.
In October 2011, Greene was suspended for getting involved in what supervisors deemed to be an unwarranted pursuit of a driver that resulted in a crash.
In August 2012, Greene was suspended for three days after missing a mandatory firearms training day without notifying his supervisor. He had previously been disciplined ­— in March 2011 and June 2012 — for missing mandatory meetings.
“I view this as a continuing problem that you have not corrected,” Rice wrote in a memorandum to Greene dated Aug. 15, 2012.
Despite the lengthy history of disciplinary action, Greene was not without several accolades as well during his time with the department.
Earlier this year, Greene was one of six in a 26-county region to be named a “2012 East Tennessee DUI Officer of the Year” by the Governor’s Highway Safety Office for his efforts in keeping drunk drivers off the road.
While recognizing Greene at a Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Hawkins said Greene and another officer awarded “continue to set the example for officers not only in this department, but across the region.”
It appears last month’s Facebook post by Greene may have been the final straw.
However, the plan to fire Greene did not get final approval, Hawkins said, because Greene resigned before it was necessary.
Greene said he is currently seeking employment with another law enforcement agency and ultimately views his leaving the Jonesborough department as “a good thing.”
“It was time for me to cut ties and move on,” Greene said. “The only reason I stayed this long is because I love my dog.”
A deal is currently being worked out to allow Rio to stay with Greene instead of continuing on at the department.
Rio has been working as a police K9 in Jonesborough for approximately six years. He recently was diagnosed with arthritis.
“A veterinarian has said Rio has, at best, one more year of service in him before he’ll need to retire,” Hawkins said. “By the time we brought in another handler, did the training and Rio got used to someone new, it would be time to retire him. Rio’s been a good dog and deserves what will be right for him.”
A “good Samaritan” has offered to pay out the town for the dog so he can remain with his partner, Greene said.
The dog has been wildly popular over the years, making dozens of appearances in and around Jonesborough.
“Everybody knows Rio,” Greene said. “If he could talk, he’d express his gratitude to everybody in Jonesborough for all the love and support he has gotten over the years.”
According to Hawkins, the police department will hire a new K9 and handler.
“But there’s no rush,” he said. “We want to make sure we get the right person for the job.”