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Investigation into officer’s offensive video begins
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The Columbus Division of Police has launched an investigation into comments made in videos by an off-duty city police officer. Susan Purtee has worked for the division for 15 years. She and her sister appear in videos on the internet deriding Jews, blacks, and illegal immigrants.
In a sharply worded letter released to the media Tuesday morning, Columbus Mayor Coleman says he was offended by what he called Officer Susan Purtee’s “racist and anti-Semitic comments.” He ordered the Department of Public Safety to conduct an immediate disciplinary investigation. He said he was concerned that her “unacceptable” remarks would reflect negatively on the city’s 1,800 police officers and Columbus itself.
Later in the day, Deputy Police Chief Gary Thatcher read a brief statement but refused to answer questions afterward.
“The Division of Police does not agree with or condone the view or opinions expressed by Officer Purtee on that website,” Thatcher said. “The Chief of Police has ordered the Internal Affairs Bureau to begin an administrative investigation. At the conclusion of that investigation it will be forwarded to Officer Purtee’s chain of command. Officer Purtee will be reassigned to a non-enforcement position pending the outcome of this administrative investigation.”
In a video titled “Ebonics” Purtee and her sister talk in dialect as they flip through images of Aunt Jemima; Rastus, the chef on the Cream of Wheat box and Buckwheat, a character in the Our Gang comedy series.
In another video, the sisters present their version of Jewish history.
“We’re going to investigate to see if the Jews are a problem in the United States as they have been in other countries. So if your feelings are going to get hurt, best not to watch this.”
“Thank God for freedom of speech.”
Purtee made the videos while off-duty and out of uniform. And she does not mention that she’s a Columbus police officer. But a legal expert says he doubts the first amendment would protect Purtee. Ohio State University law professor Edward Lee says the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public employees can only be reprimanded if what they say is not a matter of public concern. Lee says legally the city would still have justifiable grounds for action because Purtee’s comments raise the question of racial bias.
“I think that’s why on two grounds in terms of the test applied by the Supreme Court for protecting speech by public employees, it’s probably somewhat of an uphill battle to say this would be protected,” Lee says.
Lee says the question of whether law enforcement can be fairly dispensed without racial discrimination could be cause for concern for the police department. Marsha Hurwitz, president of the Columbus Jewish Federation also wonders about bias.
“I think what we find most troublesome is that this person is a police officer; a person with authority who is choosing to make these anti-Semitic and racist comments. And our concern is that when somebody has that type of authority, that those views might influence how they carry out their work,” Hurwitz says.
The local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police will represent Purtee during the disciplinary investigation. But president Jim Gilbert, who’s also a Columbus police officer and is acquainted with Purtee, was quick to distance himself from her remarks.
“Yeah, I was shocked, I was surprised,” Gilbert says. “I think a lot of officers were surprised. She’s pretty quiet she keeps to herself. While on a run she’s pretty polite. You look at her picture and you don’t think of any comments like you saw there on the You Tube coming from her. Now we’re trying to convey to the citizens that those are her own beliefs and not the beliefs of police officers.”
WOSU has not been able to contact Officer Purtee.
Watch the YouTube video.