Salem police have suspended a longtime officer who posted a “wildly inappropriate tweet” directed at Boston Mayor Marty Walsh from the department’s official Twitter account Monday.
In a statement Monday night, Salem Police Chief Mary Butler said that Capt. Kate Stephens, who oversees the department’s professional standards division, has been placed on “administrative leave pending an internal investigation to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident.”
The investigation will also determine any potential disciplinary action.
Stephens was identified as the individual who posted the since-deleted tweet Monday, which criticized Walsh’s handling of the police brutality protests Sunday in Boston, as well as the response to the coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts. The tweet added the Democratic mayor and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker are “killing this State.”
“The comments were the personal opinion of the employee who posted the tweet and in no way reflects the values or beliefs of the Salem Police Department,” Butler said.
According to the police chief, Stephens quickly deleted the tweet, which was also denounced by Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. Still, the department is continuing to conduct an investigation to determine what exactly led to the post and make recommendations to prevent similar incidents in the future (police in Cambridge recently dealt with a similar episode in which a veteran officer inadvertently posted a profane political tweet from the department’s official account).
“Upon the conclusion of the internal investigation, a hearing, as required by Massachusetts Civil Service, will be held and a decision will be made as to the appropriate disciplinary action to be taken,” Butler said.
Butler said the posting of personal commentary and opinions on the department’s account not only violated their internal social media policy, but was particularly damaging at a time of national unrest stirred by the most recent string of police killings of Black Americans.
“These comments are uncalled for at any time, but they are particularly egregious at this time when the public is questioning the fairness, equity and legitimacy of the police and their actions,” the Salem police chief said.
Butler also noted that it was “even more concerning that these comments” came from someone in leadership at the department. A 24-year veteran of Salem police, Stephens was responsible for internal affairs, department training, recruiting, and events for the department. She also worked to manage the department’s grants and accreditation.
Stephens did not respond to a request for comment.
According to The Salem News, the tweet coincided Monday with a letter to the editor that Butler submitted to the local newspaper hoping to reassure the community in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“I might as well have taken flames to the letter,” Butler told the newspaper, which first reported the suspension of Stephens.
“We in law enforcement are held to the highest standards of professional conduct,” Butler said in her statement. “However, as evidenced by the unauthorized tweet, we, at times, fail to maintain those standards. Although I am disheartened that this incident occurred, it will not keep us from providing the highest quality of police service to our community.”