SURF CITY, NC (WECT) - Surf City Police Chief Mike Halstead has retired effective immediately following an emergency meeting called in reference to a Facebook post he made on September 3. Major Ron Shanahan will take over as the interim police chief.
The Facebook post read:
Halstead was asked to retire because of the post and town council was considering terminating him if he did not, according to Surf City Town Manager Larry Bergman. A statement released by the Town of Surf City, read in part:
Town leaders and Halstead agreed to 60 days of severance pay. Bergman said the town council agreed to that primarily because it would take awhile for Halstead's retirement to kick in.
The Surf City Police Department's social media policy states employees are free to 'express themselves as private citizens on social media sites' as long as it does not 'negatively affect the public perception of the department.'
It goes on to say, 'When using social media, department personnel should be mindful that their speech becomes part of the worldwide electronic domain. Therefore, adherence to the department's code of conduct is required in the personal use of social media. In particular, department personnel are prohibited from the following: Speech 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, any religion, or any protected class of individuals.'
"He put that information out, that was intended for his friends and colleagues and peers, but it was a public statement and there are people that were offended," Bergman said.
Bergman said he spoke with Halstead about the post after it was brought to his attention. He said he reminded him "that as public employees we are often held to higher level of scrutiny and that even if it is a personal social media account and despite not associating himself directly to the Town in his posting, that some will draw the connection."
Bergman also said the chief is apologetic for how his statements have been interpreted, and that he removed the post on his own accord.
During a rally, in support of Halstead, he spoke to the media for the first time. Halstead read a prepared statement, and refused to answer any additional questions on camera.
"I wish to thank all of the residents involved, for this tremendous love and support and I would like to give a big thanks to Law Enforcement [and] Support[ers] for Media [Accountability]. To the thousands and thousands of emails and tweets of support, I am humbled and am very very grateful for the love and support from thousands from all over the world, not just local, and not just here in the United States. I would like to clarify the meaning of 'thug,' it is not a racial term and it is not defined as a race of people. Police have been using 'thug' since the 60s and 70s. A 'thug' is a person who steals what you have – have earned, kills, maims, rapes and robs. I do apologize if I offended anyone with the use of the term 'thug.' I am not a racist person, and I have never been a racist person. Anybody who knows me will tell you that. I am a God-fearing loving man, and I am a Christian. I am willing to sit down with the Town Manager, Councilman Curley and Councilman Fowler to negotiate a proper retirement and retirement ceremony that every other Law Enforcement Officer who retires in this nation is entitled to for my 35 years of service, and 17 years of service with this Town without a blemish on my record. I have done nothing wrong and I have been thrown out the door. I was treated like a dog and I am just tired of it." said Halstead.
Off camera, we asked Halstead if he was apologetic about calling the Black Lives Matter movement "nothing more than an American born terrorist group," he responded that he was "absolutely not apologizing" for that.
Tuesday night, after the emergency meeting, Halstead responded on Facebook to the outcome of this incident saying:
Wednesday morning a group gathered outside of the police department holding signs that said "Honk for Halstead" and "We Support Chief Halstead."
"I was shocked and disgusted with our Town Council," said Brandy Cuff, who was part of the protest. "No other words, just disgust." She said Halstead was unfairly forced to retire. "We have freedom of speech," Cuff said."Someone who spent 35 years of dedicated service can't post his opinion, or have an opinion about that? Someone who has to watch his fellow brothers in uniform be murdered, he can't have an opinion? It makes no sense."
Cuff also said it was unfair that there was no notice about Tuesday's emergency meeting. Cuff said many community members would have come out to support Halstead, had they known about the meeting. "They gave no notice to the members of this community that have supported him for 17 years. They threw him under the bus and turned their backs on him."
"I wasn't ready for him to retire and I don't think he was either, he has a lot of great ideas that will make this community better," said Dorothy Royal, a resident and business owner in Surf City. "Halstead is a fantastic Chief. You can just pick up the phone and call him. He will talk to you, he will answer your questions. He has supported what we do in the community, we gave a gun safety camp this summer for kids that he was a sponsored of."
As for the post, she said she agrees with it and doesn't think it is fair that it caused him to retire.
A second rally was held Friday, and a third is planned for Saturday.
The group also plans to be at the next Town Council Meeting on October 6.
"It let me know that Black Lives Matter has a lot more work to do in our mission for equality and justice," said Patrick. "Also, honestly it was almost hard to dignify with an answer. It was so ridiculous, it was absolutely a ridiculous racially motivated statement. And coming from the Chief of Police was more was even more disappointing," said Sonya Patrick, a member of the Black Lives Matter movement. She said the post was concerning and discouraging.
She said she feels as though he should have been dismissed, and not allowed to retire.
"I think he should be removed from office, he shouldn't be allowed to benefit from a retirement package. He should not benefit from taxpayers dollars because these are issues, if he is bold enough to put it on Facebook, then this is part of his agenda since he has been in office. And it is not acceptable."
Furthermore, she said the statements were "dangerous and could cause further terrorism to participants of the Black Lives Matter movement, from those that do not understand what the Black Lives Matter movement stands for, this is why he should be removed rather than allowed to retire."
President of the New Hanover NAACP, Deborah Maxwell said that she brought the post to Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II's attention. He is the President of the North Carolina NAACP. She said they are going to release a statement.