A police officer in Michigan was terminated on Thursday after a prospective homebuyer who had been touring the officer’s house posted a picture on social media of a framed Ku Klux Klan application he had seen there, spurring an internal investigation.
Frank Peterson, the city manager of Muskegon, confirmed Friday that the officer, Charles Anderson, had been terminated, but said a report on the inquiry conducted by the Muskegon Police Department would not be released until next week.
The city announced on Aug. 8 that Anderson, who is white and had been with the department for more than two decades, had been placed on administrative leave after he was found “in possession of certain items associated with a white supremacist group.” That announcement came one day after Rob Mathis, the prospective homebuyer, posted on Facebook the photo of the application, which is blank.
Although details of the investigation have not been released, Jeffrey Lewis, chief of the Police Department and Muskegon’s director of public safety, told the city’s commissioners on Aug. 27, “What you saw on social media is pretty much the way it is.”
“Nothing was revealed to us that shocked us,” Lewis said of the investigation.
The Muskegon Police Department, Anderson and the Police Officers Association of Michigan did not immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment on Friday.
Anderson’s wife, Rachael Anderson, told WOOD-TV, a local television station, that her husband was not a Klan member. “He can’t say anything right now,” Rachael Anderson said. “I wish we could because it would probably set a lot of things straight.”
MLive, a media company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, reported that the Police Department’s policy manual does not specifically ban private displays of prejudice, but says officers should “perform all duties impartially, without favour or affection or ill will and without regard to status, sex, religion, political belief or aspiration.
Mathis, 52, an Army veteran who is black, said that the picture he had posted on Facebook of the KKK application had drawn hundreds of messages, some supporting what he had done and others condemning or threatening him. He also said that the police had warned him about a death threat.
Referring to Anderson, Mathis said: “It’s unfortunate that he’s in our community, because he might have put people in jail on false charges, especially minorities. Because he was a police officer, it was my moral obligation to say something about it.”
He said that he and his wife, brother and son had toured the officer’s house in early August with an estate agent.
“The first thing I noticed walking through the dining room was a Confederate flag place mat on the table,” Mathis said.
As the family walked around, he said, his wife noticed a police officer’s coat, and he saw two more Confederate flags in the garage. And when he went upstairs, he saw the framed KKK application hanging on the wall.
He said his wife was upset, and he told her, “We’re getting out of here.” The real estate agent was very apologetic, he added.
After he posted the picture of the application and the messages poured in, he said, he was “trying to explain all of this to my 12-year-old daughter.”
“It’s a bad apple, not all law enforcement,” Mathis said. “I wanted to shield her from this.”
Mathis said he reached out to Anderson and Lewis but never heard from them.
“I walked into the most racist home I’ve ever been in in my life,” Mathis said. “I was disgusted even being in that house.”
Ten years ago, Anderson shot and killed Julius Johnson, an unarmed black man, during a foot chase. The authorities said that Johnson had repeatedly hit the officer in the head with a blunt object. The county prosecutor at the time determined that Anderson had shot in self-defense and cleared him of any wrongdoing.
DJ Hilson, Muskegon’s current county prosecutor, told The Muskegon Chronicle that he might re-evaluate the 2009 shooting, depending on the results of the Police Department’s internal investigation.
Ebony Davis, a social justice advocate working with the Mathis family to push for law enforcement transparency, said: “We want to bridge the gap between the community and the police, because the next generation has to live in this community, a community that’s pretty diverse.”
New York Times