By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
A Montclair Police Department investigation found enough evidence to “clearly prove” an officer made an inappropriate comment on a popular Facebook group, community members who alleged the comment was racist have been told.
Lt. James Milano, the department’s professional standards officer, wrote in letters to multiple complainants: “The investigation revealed that the officer violated departmental rules and regulations. [Officer William] Coad will be subject to appropriate discipline under our agency’s procedures.” Copies of the letters were provided to Montclair Local by some of the complainants.
On July 27, a Facebook comment appeared in the Facebook group “Secret Montclair,” under the name “Bill Coad,” replying to a poster’s questions about helicopters overhead. The comment was “China 19 check…” — seemingly a racial reference to COVID-19, which began in Wuhan, China.
The post quickly grew from a few comments about the helicopters and a car fire on the Garden State Parkway to dozens about the comment that police have now confirmed to complainants was made by Coad. Some posters called it “xenophobic” and others noted that he appeared to be a Montclair police officer. Christa Rappaport, chair of Montclair’s Civil Rights Commission, and other residents filed civil rights violation reports with the Montclair Police Department over the incident.
“We believed the comment on a human ethical stance was a violation, but we are very pleased that he has been found to have violated the department’s policy. We are glad he’s been sanctioned and hope it’s a sobering call to all officers to check themselves,” Rappaport told Montclair Local Monday.
According to the Montclair Police Department’s policy on personal use of electronic social media, obtained by Montclair Local through a public records request, “Montclair Police Department personnel are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites to the degree that their speech does not impair any working relationships within the Montclair Police Department for which loyalty and confidentiality are important, impede the performance of duties, impair discipline and harmony among coworkers or negatively affect the public perception of the Montclair Police Department.”
Montclair police personnel are prohibited from postings “containing obscene or sexually explicit language, images, or acts and statements or other forms of speech that ridicule, malign, disparage, or otherwise express bias against any race, ethnicity, religion or religious belief, sexual orientation, sexual identity, or any protected class of individuals,” the policy states.
The Sept. 10 letter to complainants and the Civil Rights Commission said Milano had concluded his investigation into the matter and that “the investigation uncovered sufficient evidence to clearly prove” a complaint of “improper actions.”
Emails sent Monday to Police Chief Todd Conforti and Deputy Chief Wilhelm Young asking what “appropriate discipline” under the agency’s procedures would entail have not yet been answered.
Rappaport said the ruling would “perhaps signal to all officers that even in their off hours in their living rooms, they have to act professional at all times.”
In response in part to the incident, advocacy group AAPI Montclair has requested in a letter that the township and police department provide information about the status of training of all township staff, officials and official bodies on anti-discrimination, anti-bias, diversity and inclusion, and implicit bias. The group also wants information on policies about recruitment and hiring practices, and for a diversity hiring plan to be available to the public. It asks for the police department to provide information on its efforts to diversify its workforce as well.
The Montclair Civil Commission is now calling for immediate sensitivity and diversity training for all officers as well.
Last year, reported bias incidents rose by 125% in Montclair, according to state data.
According to Bias Reports supplied by MPD, in 2020 there were 20 Bias incidents reported of which 11 were anti-semitic, three were against African Americans, three were anti-LGBTQ, two were anti-white and one was anti-Asian. In 2021 to date there have been 18 of which six were anti-semitic, two were against African Americans, seven were anti-LGBTQ, one was anti-white, one was anti-Hispanic and one was anti-Asian.
Montclairians who believe they have been victims of or have witnessed acts of hate or bias crimes can file complaints with the police department and Montclair’s Civil Rights Commission by emailing email@example.com. The state attorney general’s office also has a form on its website.
In mid-August, the township posted some information on bias crime reporting to its website. It said anyone looking to report an in-progress incident should call 911, and that reports could be submitted anonymously to firstname.lastname@example.org. It also posted documents with the state Attorney General’s Bias Incident Investigation Standards for law enforcement, and a state flyer explaining what sorts of crimes can be reported, and contact points for filing reports with local and state authorities.