A Slidell resident is calling for an investigation after obtaining copies of a dozen email messages containing racist jokes that a St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s captain circulated to a group of other law enforcement authorities and parish officials.
The emails were apparently received and forwarded by Capt. Bobby Juge to a laundry list of recipients, some of whom also worked in the Sheriff’s Office. The messages included several that compared or depicted black men as monkeys. All of the emails were racially charged, including a handful of attacks against President Barack Obama, such as a photograph of President Ronald Reagan bottle-feeding a baby gorilla with the underlying caption: “Rare photo of Ronald Reagan baby-sitting Barack Obama in early 1962.” Another took aim at an Arab riding in a cab driven by a Texan.
The emails all appear to have been sent in 2012, and the messages from Juge appear to have been sent from a private, nonwork account to other private accounts. Juge did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The messages were obtained by Belinda Parker-Brown, a local community organizer, who said she received them earlier this month from a former employee of the Sheriff’s Office.
“I was outraged about the emails. I was very offended, as a black woman,” Parker-Brown said Thursday.
While Parker-Brown is calling for an investigation, she already has brought the messages to the attention of St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain, and she was dissatisfied with the response she received.
“Supervisors have discussed this matter individually with the two employees who forwarded some of the content,” said Capt. George Bonnett, a spokesman for Strain, in a May 8 letter to Parker-Brown. “The employees have been reminded of the importance of maintaining a character above reproach, both on and off the clock.”
“Thankfully, from the materials you provided, it appears no Sheriff’s Office resources were used in the dissemination of these emails,” he added. “Nonetheless, thank you for bringing this to our attention.”
Reached by phone Thursday, Bonnett declined to make any further comment.
Parker-Brown said she believes the contents of the emails — and sheriff’s response to them — are indicative of larger systemic issues within the office.
The office has come under fire for alleged racial profiling at times in the past; the NAACP and the ACLU criticized Strain after Hurricane Katrina when he complained of “thugs and trash” from New Orleans invading St. Tammany Parish.
Parker-Brown said a deeper inquiry is needed and that anyone from the Sheriff’s Office who is found to have forwarded the emails should be fired. Separately, she said she has written Covington Mayor Mike Cooper asking him to investigate the matter.
“I really don’t want to separate our community and make this a black-and-white thing, although it is racist,” she said. “The Sheriff’s Office is a dysfunctional organization that is absolutely convinced of its own superiority, and nothing could be better illustrated than these emails that were received and forwarded by the leadership in the department.”
The contents of an email forwarded by the second employee referenced in Bonnett’s letter could not be verified by The New Orleans Advocate because it contained an attachment that could not be viewed.
The emails bring to mind a controversy that erupted two years ago when New Orleans police officer Jason Giroir made disparaging remarks about the Trayvon Martin shooting in the comments section of WWL-TV’s website.
“Act like a Thug Die like one!” Giroir commented on a story posted on the website that described the local reaction to the 17-year-old Martin’s killing in Florida, apparently in reference to the hooded sweatshirt that Martin was wearing when he was fatally shot by a neighborhood watchman.
Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas suspended Giroir immediately, saying he was “furious” and calling the comments “insensitive” and “hurtful.”
Just a month earlier, in March 2012, Giroir had fatally shot Justin Sipp, who fired at police 14 times during a traffic stop, wounding two officers.
Giroir resigned a few months later as a pre-termination hearing was set to begin.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter @rthompsonMSY