Veteran Lethbridge police officer fired over ‘profane, abusive and insulting’ memes

Click to play video: 'Decision reserved in LPS officer’s disciplinary hearing over ‘Meme Militia’'
Decision reserved in LPS officer’s disciplinary hearing over ‘Meme Militia’
WATCH (Oct. 14): Sanctioning arguments were heard at a hearing for a Lethbridge police officer who pleaded guilty to misconduct last year. As Erik Bay reports, an argument was made for his dismissal from the police service – Oct 14, 2022

A police chief in southern Alberta says the firing of a veteran officer for misconduct was necessary to provide a safe and respectful workplace.

Lethbridge police announced Monday the conclusion of a disciplinary matter that involved five officers for their roles in “the creation and distribution of profane, abusive and insulting memes.”

Following the completion of an investigation in December 2020 by an outside agency, the officers — one sergeant and four constables — were charged with misconduct under the Alberta Police Act and Police Service Regulation and a disciplinary hearing was ordered.

The sergeant, who previously pleaded guilty to five counts of misconduct and was acquitted of a sixth, was dismissed from the police force. Previously, two constables resigned and two others were demoted for one year.

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The sanctions are a result of inappropriate images, reportedly including pictures of senior staff pasted onto the bodies of characters from the animated “Toy Story” movies, that circulated in a private chat group in 2018.

“We do not condone and will not tolerate any conduct that is offensive, intimidating, harassing or harmful to others and we have procedures in place to investigate and take corrective action to address founded incidents,” said Lethbridge police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh in a written statement.

“The Lethbridge Police Service is disheartened by the actions of these five officers and the dishonour, embarrassment and erosion of the public’s trust they caused, as well as the harm to our own employees and others who were among those targeted in the memes.”

Click to play video: 'Public inquiry into LPS requested after whistleblower letters allege retaliation against MLA'
Public inquiry into LPS requested after whistleblower letters allege retaliation against MLA

Jay McMillan, president of the Lethbridge Police Association, which represents members of the LPS, said they must respect the decision. While he feels the lengthy process of coming to this point should be examined, the closure is welcomed.

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“It’s certainly a sad day. It’s a sad day for everybody involved,” McMillan told Global News on Wednesday. “It’s unfortunate that it happened and that it played out the way it did, and it’s unfortunate the result that came. But that’s where we’re at, and so the Lethbridge police as an organization and the membership as a whole have to move on.”

The service has faced numerous controversies in recent years.

In 2020, two officers were temporarily demoted after a review determined NDP provincial legislature member Shannon Phillips, while environment minister in 2017, was surveilled and photographed at a diner.

The officers involved were apparently concerned about changes Phillips was making regarding rules for off-highway vehicles in nearby wilderness areas.

Click to play video: '2 Lethbridge police officers demoted after 2017 incident involving MLA Shannon Phillips'
2 Lethbridge police officers demoted after 2017 incident involving MLA Shannon Phillips

Separately, five officers and one civilian were investigated on allegations of conducting improper database searches on Phillips while she was in cabinet.

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The force was also criticized in May 2020 for the violent takedown of a citizen wearing a “Star Wars” storm trooper costume and brandishing a toy laser blaster. An independent review said the officers had not acted inappropriately.

The service provided an action plan to Alberta’s justice minister after he ordered it to clean up its act or risk being dissolved, demanding it address everything from recruiting to oversight to the department’s internal culture.

“LPS also engaged in a process to develop our new mission, vision and values.

“This process was led from the ground up, with the support and oversight of the Lethbridge Police Commission, to empower all of our employees to take ownership, define the principles that guide our work and be the change,” said Mehdizadeh.

Click to play video: 'Lethbridge Police Service facing backlash over online post'
Lethbridge Police Service facing backlash over online post

When asked about his confidence in moving forward in a positive direction under Mehdizadeh’s leadership, McMillan indicated he believes the service is — and has been — in good hands.

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“There’s definitely been some positive changes at the Lethbridge police, there’s no question about that, and I don’t see anything that would give me pause or concern that that won’t continue to happen.”

— with files from Eloise Therien, Global News

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