NOTE: This story quotes vulgar language many may find offensive. Also, the officer depicted above is not the officer mentioned herein.
Sparks Police announced yesterday they were looking into allegations that one of their officers posted vile and threatening comments on Twitter.
An account using the name George Forbush, with posts implying he works in law enforcement, went dark Sunday after screen grabs from the account started being shared on Facebook. Forbush is listed in open sources as a Sparks Police officer making more than $250,000 a year in salary, overtime and benefits.
A Sparks Police Public Information Officer said the information about the tweets was passed on to command staff and there would be further discussions with Police Chief Pete Krall. Krall did not respond to multiple requests for comment by email and calls through the PIO.
The department instead posted a statement online:
“The Sparks Police Department has received information regarding social media posts purportedly made by a current employee. We are investigating the allegations to determine if the posts violate either Sparks Police Department Policy or City Administrative Rules. We conduct all Internal Investigations in accordance with Nevada Revised Statutes Chapter 289, and as such will not be commenting further at this time.”
Complaints were filed against the officer in the wake of the screenshots of tweets being shared online.
“He had liked or shared numerous instances of police violence on his feed, and follows/interacts with several white supremacists and right-wing extremist accounts,” one complaint read. “On or about July 28th, 2020, he replied to [a] photo of a Portland protestor [sic], who had been shot at close range in the forehead with a projectile, writing, ‘Cheers to the marksman that turned her into a cyclops.’
“I work in Sparks and to know this man is an officer in that jurisdiction turns my stomach and makes me very fearful for my own safety,” the complaint continued. “After further research, I read he killed a man in 2016 via positional asphyxiation and was later cleared because the man had methamphetamine in his system. If I call for help, would he put me in the same hold?”
News Channel 2 first reported the story, saying Sparks PD was investigating, but did not offer specifics–though, a number of comments below Channel 2’s story contained screenshots of the tweets.
A commenter posted in support of Forbush: “He’s a good man and doesn’t deserve to lose his job or reputation over this. I’ve personally had multiple professional encounters with him and he is the kind of officer that I appreciate having on the streets as a citizen of this city.”
The account with Forbush’s name also told United States Senator Jacky Rosen to “be like a dildo and fuck off.” Posts repeatedly railed on Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, calling him vulgar names.
“Go fuck yourself!” a tweet directed at Sisolak read. “The only reason people wear masks is because you have used extortion on small businesses by fining them if customers don’t wear a mask.”
The account also ridiculed leftists and protesters, alluding that they need to be shot, burned and assaulted.
“Bitch deserved it,” a tweet read.
Another tweet said, “Considering what group was there, an accidental discharge would have been extremely satisfying.” That was in reference to the St. Louis couple who brandished firearms at Black Lives Matter protesters. The couple is facing felony charges for the incident.
The comments appear to violate a number of Sparks Police policies, specifically policies prohibiting or limiting participation in controversial matters. Sparks Police prohibits off-duty conduct “which poses an unreasonable threat of danger to the public” or is “lewd or lascivious.”
Officers are also prohibited from demeaning or showing partiality toward anyone or organizations of protected status, such as race or gender, and from failing to “perform his official duties” or acting in a way that “could bring discredit upon him/herself, upon the department or upon any other member of the department.”
In addition, officers are not allowed to “perform any acts or make any statements, oral or written for publication” that could “bring the department into disrepute or ridicule…”
Office discipline remains elusive as critics clamor for increased transparency
The comments come as many are clamoring for fundamental reforms to policing in America. Since George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police in Minneapolis, numerous munipalities have changed use-of-force policies, and law enforcement in general has come under increasing scrutiny.
There are continuing calls for greater transparency, particularly regarding officer conduct. Police unions have historically protected officers, with complaints against law enforcement often being met with secrecy.
Lawsuits, commentary by former police officers, investigative reporting, live-streams and citizen media, peer-reviewed research, data hacks and political pressure have helped shine a light on police activities not always made public.
The BlueLeaks hack revealed police misplacing threats by activists in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“While the documents reveal concern over groups with a professed commitment to unrest, like the far-right group Boogaloo, they also suggest a tendency to categorize standard protest behavior as a threat to police,” the Intercept recently reported. “The leaked documents from Minneapolis are filled with rumors that may never be verified.
“They warn of a ‘truck full of Texas residents with AR-15s’ and ‘busloads of people coming from Chicago’ headed to the protest area. They also give a few telling examples of overreaction. ‘A rental vehicle was reported downtown Minneapolis in a parking ramp with Florida plates and radio equipment within,’ read a dispatch from the sheriff’s office. ‘Security later confirmed it belonged to a media crew staying at the hotel.’”
Police targeting of activists and journalists has been well documented after dozens of protests were held around the country. Accountability for these actions remains murky.
“The vast majority of police officers are honorable men and women who risk their lives every day to protect our communities.”
“68 videos show clear apparent instances of police officers escalating violence during protests,” ProPublica reported last week. “Most departments refused to share details about investigations and discipline or even officers’ names.”
That’s a familiar trend, but investigative reporting continues to crack into data surrounding officer misconduct.
“Less than 10% of officers in most police forces get investigated for misconduct,” a USA Today investigation recently found. Moreover, “Dishonesty is a frequent problem. The records document at least 2,227 instances of perjury, tampering with evidence or witnesses or falsifying reports.”
Former police officer and law professor Seth Stoughton said misconduct records should be made public.
“Officers are public servants. They police in our name,” he said. There is a “strong public interest in identifying how officers are using their public authority.”
Typical is this scenario: A cop commits serious misconduct. The chief suspends him immediately. Often, the cop still gets paid to sit at home, because this is legally required. Internal affairs investigates, but the process is delayed by exasperating legal and contract hurdles. Meanwhile, the community stews: Why hasn’t the chief fired him?
Finally, the chief has the evidence to act. If merited, the cop is fired. Months have gone by, but that was the easy part. Now the cop will appeal — because the review process is staggeringly favorable to bad cops.
The case goes either to an arbitrator or to a panel, a “civil service commission” appointed by the city council. The arguments are always the same: The chief’s investigation was shoddy; the chief had a vendetta against this particular cop; other cops did this before and weren’t fired; the alleged misconduct wasn’t really that bad. Too often, arbitrators feel the pressure to “split the baby” in their decisions. Perhaps the cop is docked pay or demoted; otherwise, he’s back on patrol.
Another column pointed out that the movement to “defund the police” is contextually inaccurate and inappropriate for the reasons cited for police reform, thus hampering the ability to reform policies that enable and protect misconduct.
“The vast majority of police officers are honorable men and women who risk their lives every day to protect our communities. We don’t need to ‘dismantle’ the police; we need to purge our police departments of bad cops. And that will require doing something Democrats have long opposed—reform collective bargaining,” wrote columnist Marc Thiessen in the Washington Post.
However, “police union contracts are not normal collective bargaining agreements. Police unions have crafted a complex web of disciplinary rules that critics say makes it impossible to hold police accountable for killing unarmed Black citizens.” That’s according to reporting by the Center for Public Integrity.
Policy experts agree officer discipline is fraught with problems.
“Effective policing depends on a disciplinary process that is capable of serving the interests of all three parties in a fair and equitable manner,” Darrel Stephens wrote in a white paper in 2011. Stephens is a retired police chief for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and former faculty member at defunct Johns Hopkins University’s Public Safety Leadership Program. He wrote: “In many cases the current disciplinary systems fail to do this, reducing police legitimacy and effectiveness. Police discipline is a messy, complicated and controversial process.”
Police frustrated too
The level of vitriol and attention faced by law enforcement has drawn sharp divisions, often along political lines.
“We feel like we’re pawns in a game right now,” said a supervisor in a police department in the St. Louis region who asked that his name not be used in order to speak frankly about the job. “It’s almost like there’s an agenda and we’re being used on both sides, the left and the right, to further that agenda.”
Community policing is cited as a potential way to improve community relations.
Redlands, Calif. Police Chief Chris Catren said:
“In policing, you don’t put a toe in the water. You either dive in, or you don’t. When incidents like [George Floyd’s death] happen, for officers all the way across the country, it tarnishes all the work that we’ve done and all the trust we’ve built up with our community, and that’s frustrating.”
Here at home
Officer misconduct and any potential disciplinary actions remain confidential in Nevada. This Is Reno has pending public records orders from the Reno Police Department that remain stalled because the incidents are deemed “open investigations.”
The Nevada Legislature is working on rollbacks for police protections during its second special session. Frustration expressed during public comment at the session conveyed horrors citizens have experienced at the hands of police. Many said the changes didn’t go nearly far enough.
Some law enforcement leaders support the bill, though, which is still being mulled at the legislature.
“Old ways of policing are not effective anymore. Our community needs a guardian mentality to look after them,” said Todd Renwick, director of University Police Services–Northern Command. “I am pleased to tell you we have already implemented most of these reforms. I am also proud to say that we have trained our entire department in de-escalation techniques and have the only POST certified lesson plan in the state of Nevada for de-escalation…”
Assembly member Lisa Krasner (R-Washoe County) supports the bill. She described having to speak with her sons about the killing of 18-year-old Sparks man Miciah Lee by Sparks Police officers.
“It’s so hard for a mom to answer two sons when they say, ‘Mom, why did the police shoot that kid when they said he was suicidal?’ and I just think we need some police reform. Again, I have the utmost respect for our law enforcement officers, but this can’t go on. This is wrong, and I support AB3.”
Some residents frustrated with Sparks Police
Some of those living and working in Sparks say they are fearful of Sparks Police.
“This guy is dangerous,” one commenter wrote in response to the Forbush account’s tweets. “He’s liked or retweeted a bunch of tweets of police cruelty and overstepping, like holding a protester’s face in a tear gas cloud and slapping phones away.”
Another commenter said, “I don’t feel safe knowing this man has a gun and walks my streets.”
A post on the Sparks Police Facebook page described the author’s desire to work in law enforcement but “yesterday when a squad of your men surrounded my [brother’s] house and after I was as nice and cooperative as possible, the LT and Sgt on the scene along with a number of different officers drew on my unarmed little nephew my [brother’s] girlfriend, their infant child and another teenage nephew.
“All drew pistols and there were at least 2 PEACE officers with tasers. My brother even let them come into his HOME and look at the Cameras AND THEY CONTINUE TO ACCUSE AND BE AGGRESSIVE WITH MY FAMILY.”
The commenter, a military veteran, said those behaviors tarnished his faith and trust in Sparks law enforcement.
This was in the wake of numerous people calling the Sparks City Council decrying Miciah Lee’s death and asking for fundamental police reforms. Sparks Mayor Ron Smith responded to critics of the Sparks Police by saying he would hire more officers if he could.
Indeed, the department is hiring.
“We value the inherent worth of all by treating others with dignity and respect,” the department maintains. “Members of the Sparks Police Department inspire trust through honesty, moral courage and the highest ethical and legal standards.”
CORRECTION: The Sparks Police Chief is Pete Krall, who was installed as chief in last year, not Brian Allen the prior chief, as previously reported.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor, and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time research appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.