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Photo by Steven Hsieh, Meme by Anson Stevens-Bollen

To Protect and Troll

Police union chief under investigation for incendiary posts

February 20, 2017, 5:00 pm

The Santa Fe Police Department’s internal affairs unit on Monday opened an investigation of the local police union president for incendiary posts shared on his Facebook page, including memes disparaging Muslims, African Americans and the transgender community.

The investigation comes after SFR emailed Police Chief Patrick Gallagher seven screenshots taken from Sgt. Troy Baker’s Facebook page, representing just a small sample of questionable posts shared by the officer over several years. Baker has not been placed on leave.

Here’s one of the images we emailed to Gallagher, followed by Baker’s explanation to us, which he gave via phone:


Baker’s view: “That is a joke and taken as such. We don’t need to be running over people intentionally, but people shouldn’t be blocking roadways either.”

Here’s another:

 
Baker’s explanation: “Your gender is what you’re born with. You can’t change it just because you say you are what you say. By that logic, I am royalty, right? Because I say I am. And I’m black because that’s what I am."

Here’s one more:

Baker’s view: “I don’t have anti-Muslim views. I have anti-radical Islam views. I have friends that are Muslim. It’s not against a religion. It’s against radical Muslims. The people in that photo are from ISIS.”

(Scroll down for more examples of Baker's Facebook posts.)

The Santa Fe Police Department does not have a social media policy, but the department personnel code does prohibit “conduct unbecoming of an officer.”

When asked whether Baker’s posts reflect broader positions of the police department, Gallagher tells SFR, “Emphatically, no.” He adds: “Posts such as this have the potential to make officers’ jobs more difficult by eroding police-community relationships.” 

Baker says personal views expressed on his Facebook post do not affect his on-duty behavior. “I’m not bringing it to work,” he tells SFR. “You find one person I am not giving appropriate community service to due to their gender, race or ethnicity. Find one.”

Baker briefly lost his job after a 2010 incident in which a man claimed he and four other officers used excessive force when arresting him for disorderly conduct in a Walmart parking lot. An external review board reinstated Baker and another officer, Steve Cosban. (We asked the police department for additional complaints filed against Baker. We’ll keep you updated with any responses.)

Baker, a 22-year veteran of Santa Fe city police, was elected president of the Santa Fe Police Officers Association about a year ago. The union represents roughly 150 sworn officers and civilian employees, according to Baker.

Not every one of Baker’s Facebook posts expresses his political views. For example, he routinely posts memorials for fallen officers. He also occasionally shares personal news, including a photograph of the trophy he received after the Santa Fe Police Department awarded him 2016 Supervisor of the Year.

But much of Baker’s social media activity involves sharing overtly racist or sexist content, often derived from the pages of right-wing icons like Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (better known as "Joe the Plumber") and Milo Yiannopoulos, the provocateur who was recently dropped as keynote speaker for the Conservative Political Action Committee after a video of him defending pedophiles surfaced.

Baker frequently uses his Facebook page to express his views on immigration. Like this one:


Another post of his from June 2016 links to a story about a US Congressional bill that would pull federal funding from so-called "sanctuary cities," jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal deportation authorities. Baker’s post predated the election of President Donald Trump, who has promised to do the same thing. Santa Fe is a sanctuary city.

While Baker does not say whether he condones pulling federal funding from sanctuary cities, he makes his view clear in a phone call with SFR. “Why should a city be rewarded for violating federal law?” Baker says. “I have a lot of friends who are here illegally too. I am absolutely against the criminal element and making the city an absolute safe haven, but again, that’s my personal opinion and has nothing to do with the police department.”

Baker also often uses his Facebook page to make generalizations about Muslims and refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. Like this one:


While Baker typically doesn’t add substantial commentary to the memes he posts, the sergeant became quite verbose in November 2015, when Mayor Javier Gonzales called on Gov. Susana Martinez to welcome more Syrian refugees into New Mexico. “He went from honoring our veterans last week, to kicking us in the balls today,” Baker, whose Facebook profile picture is a US Army uniform, wrote of the mayor. “We have enough issues here in Santa Fe for our overworked, underpaid, and understaffed police department. We don’t need to add international terrorists to our citizens. Our proximity to LANL, SNL and Kirtland AFB, make us a prime target."

Santa Fe is hardly the first police department to conduct internal investigations over content shared or posted by officers on social media. Just 50 miles south, the Albuquerque Police Department became one of the first in the nation to implement a social media conduct policy after journalists (namely, former Albuquerque Journal reporter and current SFR contributing editor Jeff Proctor) flagged offensive posts made by officers.

One detective was temporarily suspended for listing his job description as “human waste disposal,” a detail reporters noticed after he fatally shot a man during a traffic stop. In another example, a detective was fired after posts referencing swastikas, pistol-whipping and disparaging comments about Muslims.  

Taken together, the Albuquerque officers' posts offered one of the first public windows into deeply rooted problems surrounding civil rights, use of force and a dim view of the public at the state's largest law enforcement agency.

After a 16-month investigation of Albuquerque police by the US Department of Justice, federal officials would describe it in a blistering set of findings issued in April 2014 as a "culture of aggression" that led to widespread excessive force and one of the highest rates of police shootings in the nation.

The Department of Justice most recently referenced social media posts expressing discriminatory views in a scathing report of civil rights violations by the Chicago Police Department.

After coming across Baker’s Facebook page, SFR reviewed the Facebook pages of the rest of the Santa Fe Police Department roster. Of those who set their pages to public, we could not find any posts with the same tenor, tone or offensive content as Baker's.

Baker set his page to private after SFR called him for comment.

Here are more examples of his Facebook posts: 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Proctor contributed to this story.

8:16 PM: This story has been updated to reflect Sgt. Baker's involvement in an alleged excessive force case in 2010.

 

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