Two St. Louis-area police officers have been suspended by their departments, as the unrest in Ferguson keeps intense scrutiny on the personal conduct of law enforcement officials.
A St. Louis County officer who had been assigned to the streets of Ferguson has been suspended after a Youtube video of him making incendiary comments surfaced.
A Glendale officer was also suspended Friday after comments he posted to Facebook.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said officer Dan Page, a 35-year veteran of the department, has been suspended pending a review by the internal affairs unit. The video was brought to Belmar’s attention by CNN reporter Don Lemon, who had previously brought Page to the department’s attention after complaining Page shoved him.
The video of Page was apparently made in 2012 before a group called the Oath Keepers of St. Louis and St. Charles. It is unclear where it was shot. Glendale officer Matthew Pappert was also suspended after posting on social media that he thought the Ferguson protesters should be "put down like rabid dogs."
In the wake of the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer and weeks of ensuing protests, the two incidents illustrate the glare that the international news story has cast on local police. While he would have reacted to the video the same way absent the Ferguson protests, even Belmar admitted that he wouldn't have faced the same pressure to maintain the county police force's image.
Belmar told the Post-Dispatch that Page's comments defaming President Barack Obama, the U.S. Supreme Court, Muslims and various sexual orientations would likely have triggered disciplinary review for being “beyond the scope of acceptable police conduct.”
But it was Page’s comments in the video describing himself, in Belmar's words, as "an indiscriminate killer, that it didn’t matter what your race or background was” that most concerned the police chief.
“With the comments on killing, that was obviously something that deeply disturbed me immediately,” Belmar said.
An internal review will start Monday, and Page will not be doing any police work until internal affairs makes an official decision on whether the officer should be suspended, Belmar said.
“Had he been a probationary officer doing the same thing, I would have fired him two hours ago,” Belmar said.
Among Page's rambling comments in the hour-long video:
• "Muslims are passive until they gain parity with you or they exceed you in numbers and they will kill you."
• "Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill won't even talk to me. They say 'You're an extremist.' I say amen. OK. And I'm real good with a rifle. My best shot is at 1,875 meters. I got me a gold star on that one. That's a fact. You run from me you will die tired. I'm dead serious, folks."
• "I personally believe in Jesus Christ as my lord savior, but I'm also a killer. I’ve killed a lot. And if I need to, I'll kill a whole bunch more. If you don't want to get killed, don't show up in front of me, it's that simple. I have no problem with it. God did not raise me to be a coward," he said before warning the audience that he believes the government will put kids in indoctrination camps.
• "I'm into diversity. I kill everybody, I don't care."
Page says on the video that he is a former Green Beret who did nine combat tours and took early retirement from the military because he refuses to take orders from "an undocumented president."
“It’s very concerning to the NAACP that an officer like that is on the ground. And who knows what he’s already done on the ground already?” John Gaskin, a St. Louis County and national NAACP board member, told CNN Friday afternoon.
Belmar confirmed that Page had been assigned to day patrols in Ferguson during the unrest over the last two weeks. Belmar said Lemon, the CNN anchor who first reported on the Page video, complained days ago that the officer had pushed him while he was reporting in Ferguson. Other than that, “we’ve not gotten any complaints,” Belmar said.
The chief said that he reviewed footage of Page in the incident Lemon complained about. “I didn’t think it amounted to any sort of assault,” Belmar said.
The chief is not aware of any other blemishes on Page’s record, but he said he has not had an opportunity to review Page's file.
“That was kind of the only time his name has been recognized up here,” he said of the Lemon incident. “But again, this video is disturbing.”
Belmar added: “No one believes he was ever involved in a shooting or a fatal shooting.”
Page has been deployed with the U.S. Army several times during his police career, according to Belmar. He was most recently deployed from 2008 to 2011, and again in the early 2000s. It wasn’t immediately clear where Page had been deployed.
Pappert was suspended after posting on Facebook that the Ferguson protesters were "a burden on society and a blight on the community," according to posts preserved by news and opinion website "The Daily Caller." Another post that appears to come from Pappert says the "protestors should have been put down like rabid dogs the first night."
Jeffrey Beaton, chief of police in the small St. Louis County suburb of roughly 6,000 people, said the comments of Pappert were brought to his attention at roughly 10:40 a.m. Friday morning and "an internal investigation was immediately initiated." Pappert was immediately suspended until the investigation is complete, Beaton said, which shouldn't take longer than "a couple weeks."
The investigation will look for any other conduct "that's relevant or similar," Beaton said.
"These type of allegations could result in disciplinary action up to and including termination,” he said.
Glendale canceled a local ice cream social and Arbor Day celebration scheduled for Friday evening on North Sappington Road after the Facebook comments came to light.
On Wednesday, a St. Ann police lieutenant was suspended after pointing a semi-automatic assault rifle at a protester in Ferguson the night before, police said. Lt. Ray Albers pointed the gun at a peaceful protester after a "verbal exchange." A county sergeant witnessed the incident, forced the officer to lower his gun and escorted him away.