Alabama sheriff's office deletes photo of Christmas tree with 'thugshots' after backlash

A sheriff's office in Alabama deleted a Facebook post Sunday showing a Christmas tree decorated with "thugshots" of apparent suspects after it received criticism from civil rights groups and what it described as death threats.

The post, which appeared Thursday on the Mobile County Sheriff's Office page, included a photo of the tree and retouched images of mug shots meant to appear as ornaments, NBC affiliate WPMI reported. Plastic orange sandals, like those issued to inmates, served as the tree topper.

Mobile County Sheriff's Office / Mobile County Sheriff's Office
Mobile County Sheriff's Office / Mobile County Sheriff's Office

A since-removed caption read: "We have decorated our Tree with THUGSHOTS to show how many Thugs we have taken off the streets of Mobile this year! We could not have done it without our faithful followers!"

The post added that the department was providing a "special Christmas offer" for "ALL MOBILE COUNTY THUGS" — an item "from our property room!"

"Any of the things that your friend THUGS have stolen will be available for you!" the post said. "But that's not all, after you choose your one stolen item, your very own personal concierge #correctionsofficer will provide an escort to METRO DELUXE where you will receive your FREE COVID TEST. If you pass your test, then your concierge will take you for a 'custom fitting' to receive your Holiday Jumpsuit with matching 'flap flops.'"

The Mobile County NAACP said in a statement that it had received phone calls and messages from residents angered by the post. Chapter President Robert Clopton twice reached out to the sheriff's office, the group said, but didn't hear back.

"We live in a very volatile time," Clopton said in a statement. "The relationship between law enforcement and the general public has been compromised."

He added that the post was "inappropriate, shameful, disrespectful, despicable, disgusting and embarrassing to the citizens of Mobile County."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama also criticized the post, saying many people who have been arrested "struggle with mental illness and substance use issues."

"They need the community's assistance and care, not open scorn from leaders," the organization said.

The sheriff's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday. WPMI reported that the post was removed after the sheriff's office said it received death threats and warnings that its office would be set on fire.

The sheriff's office said the threats came from "outside the community," the station reported.

A spokeswoman for the office, Lori Myles, told on Friday that the ornaments showed repeat criminal offenders who'd been arrested by sheriff's deputies this year through a social media effort, "Thug Thursday," that the office launched three years ago.

The effort, which is meant to be humorous, shows offenders with outstanding warrants, Myles told the site.

"It's funny and does draw attention. There are results," she said, adding, "We were not making fun" of those who were arrested.