JASPER, Ala. (WBMA) — The four Jasper police officers who have garnered nationwide attention for the hand gesture made while posing for a picture have not been suspended but could still face discipline, including suspension.
The Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) which the officers belong to has been sidelined indefinitely while the investigation moves forward said Jasper Police Chief J.C. Poe. ALEA or the Walker County Sheriff's Office would be contacted if the police department needed a tactical team.
Poe made the revelations two days after Mayor David O'Mary told ABC 33/40 News the officers had been suspended for two weeks, including a week's pay. The decision gained significant attention and scrutiny after it was reported.
"That was a miscommunication on my part. At no time has an officer lost pay. Now I'm not saying that they won't but that's something that we've got to determine and we've got a due process that we need to follow through our Civil Service Board," said Poe, who sat alongside the mayor during Wednesday's interview.
Poe said the four officers have since received letters outlining the complaints against them. They include dereliction of duty and failure to represent the department according to the chief. The officers, whose names have not been made public, have seven days to respond to the letter.
The chief will then determine what, if any punishment will be administered. The chief did not elaborate further on potential punishments but said the officers would not lose their jobs unless new information surfaced during the course of the investigation.
The officers will have the opportunity to appeal to the Walker County Civil Service Board said Poe. He declined to say whether the punishments would be made public but said the decision would ultimately belong to the mayor.
"We need to seek advice from our attorney before we do that because we don't want to do anything that's slanderous to our officers."
The controversy began after a photo was published in the Daily Mountain Eagle last week. The picture was taken after an arrest by the CIRT team in the Frisco community. O'Mary said he organized the photo because he wanted the officers to receive credit for their work. He said at the time he had not spoken to them since to ask what they meant by the gesture. He said it didn't matter.
"That's contradictory to how we run our city. That's not our mindset. That's not the way we do things and they used poor judgement."
The mayor told ABC 33/40 News on Monday that the opinions of certain members of the police department had been sought in deciding to issue the suspensions.
"We talked to two senior African-American law enforcement officers that are on the City of Jasper's payroll and they think it's fair and that's a pretty good sounding board."
Those suspensions were never issued. Poe declined to say what the officer's explanation for the gesture was citing potential personnel action. He admitted he did not believe the officers meant to convey a racially insensitive message as some have claimed.
"I don't think that they meant any ill-will towards anybody. I think they were being less than professional as I see it."
The chief also echoed the mayor's disappointment in the officers actions.
"They're extremely remorseful. Of course wished it had never happened and very apologetic but still we're here were we are today."
Editor's Note: This is a developing story. A full report will air on ABC 33/40 News at 6.