Two Baton Rouge police officers served suspensions in September for separate, racially-charged comments each made during the first week in May when the U.S. Justice Department decided not to pursue civil rights charges in the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling.
As the city — and its police force — were bracing for protests in response to the federal decision about the case, in which a white police officer fatally shot Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, both a white and black Baton Rouge police officer made comments that offended another member of their agency, warranting discipline, according to the department's internal affairs division.
The white officer, Blaine Dupuy, was suspended for 20 days — from Aug. 26 to Sept. 14 — after an internal affairs investigation found he sent a text message May 4 with an animated photo depicting a chimpanzee along with the phrase, "I'va biggen CHIMP OUT," according to investigative documents. Dupuy sent the image to the 11-members of his squad in a group text message as they were discussing the possible protests.
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Donald Steele Jr., a black officer in that group message, responded to the text, saying it was a racist term and reminded everyone that there were black people in the group text. He also said there are certain words he won't say around white people.
Steele then formally filed a complaint about the text message to internal affairs, saying he found it derogatory and racist.
The online Urban Dictionary defines "chimping out" as a slur describing "when a black person removes his/her facade as a civilized human being and releases his/her inner chimp; as in to start acting violent and out of control."
Dupuy has continually stated he "meant the phrase as a joke and had no idea that it could be considered racist," a letter from interim Chief Jonny Dunnam says.
Steele was also later suspended for three days beginning Sept. 1 following an internal affairs investigation that found during that first week in May he approached three fellow officers — one of Middle-Eastern descent and two white — in a convenience store and said: "I don't know why you hanging around them white folk, they don't want you," directing his comments to the officer of Middle-Eastern descent, investigative documents say.
Two of those three officers later submitted formal complaints to internal affairs, calling the comments "extremely offensive" and "unprofessional," according to the investigation.
No one interviewed by internal affairs could give investigators an exact date when the incident occurred except that it happened during the first week of May, though all three officers said they heard Steele's comments, the documents say.
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Steele has denied ever making the statement, according to investigative documents. He is set to appeal the suspension Nov. 16 at the Municipal Fire & Police Civil Service Board.
The two officers who formally complained about Steele's statement also called it hypocritical.
"A double standard should not be in place when it comes to racial allegations and racial business," one of the complaints says.
However, Steele alleges the complaints about his conduct were in retaliation to his accusation against Dupuy.
"I think this is retaliation due to me writing a letter on his friend," Steele said during an internal affairs interview, according to the investigative documents. "If that incident did occur as he said it did, I believe he would have said something on that date and time and not wait until I wrote a letter on someone else on the squad."
Dupuy was placed on administrative leave May 18 so the internal affairs division could investigate the text message, according to the documents.
On May 23, the day after The Advocate published a story about Dupuy's investigation, the first officer filed a formal complaint that Steele had made the offensive comments. Two days later, the second officer filed a similar complaint, documents show.
One of the officers said he didn't come forward and complain about Steele sooner because he was "willing to swallow some pride," and see that "we are all blue," instead of skin color, according to the complaint. But, he said, "I feel this must be addressed at this time with the current investigation going on (about Dupuy's text)."
Dupuy, a three-year veteran of the force, was disciplined for violating policies regarding "command of temper, respect to fellow members and conduct unbecoming of an officer," according to the documents. Dupuy was off duty at the time of the incident.
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Steele, an officer for the last two-and-a-half years, was disciplined for violating "command of temper," documents say. Steele was on duty at the time of the incident.
Both Steele and Dupuy have completed their suspensions and returned to work, said Baton Rouge Police spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola.
Dupuy could not be reached for comment Monday, and it was not clear whether he has an attorney.
Sgt. C. Bryan Taylor, the president of the Baton Rouge police union, did not return calls seeking comment.
Sgt. Myron Daniels, the Capital Area president of the Magnolia State Peace Officers Association who is representing Steele in his appeal of the department's discipline, declined to comment until after the appeal hearing.
East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said she agreed with the disciplinary action taken.
"I stand by my original sentiment that blatantly racist messaging of any type is appalling," Broome wrote in a statement. "We will continue to study and implement best practices in all areas to ensure that our citizens are served by officers who understand and implement 21st Century policing practices and standards. This includes respecting the people they swear to protect and serve, as well as each other."
Editor's note: This story was updated Tuesday, Nov. 11 to include the statement from Mayor Broome.