NORMAN, Okla. — The Norman Police Department is internally investigating an officer who sent “an inappropriate image and reference” in an email to the entire department, Chief Kevin Foster said Tuesday.
Foster called a press conference the morning after The Black Wall Street Times published copies of a May 5 internal email from an officer that contains a reference to a movie scene depicting a large gathering of Ku Klux Klan members.
Earlier this month, Foster said, members of the NPD were commenting via email about wearing protective masks in the field, writing that they were experiencing issues with masks fitting correctly or staying on.
NPD Officer Jacob McDonough responded to the thread with an image from the movie "Django Unchained," referencing a scene in which KKK members holding flaming torches complain about the fit of their hoods. Foster said McDonough’s email went to the whole department, or about 250 people.
According to Foster, McDonough was “immediately called on [the email] by a supervisor,” who stopped the conversation. Copies of the NPD emails published by The Black Wall Street Times confirm that within 15 minutes of McDonough sending the image, Lt. Lee McWhorter shut down the email thread.
“McDonough, I really hope you didn’t mean that the way it looks because that’s MORE than inappropriate,” an email from McWhorter obtained by The Black Wall Street Times reads. “I’d say this is a fantastic time to stop this email thread and if you have an issue to contact your direct supervisor."
Foster said Tuesday that he was alerted to McDonough’s email within about 40 minutes, and that action was taken that same day. According to Foster, he “immediately” alerted internal affairs about the email, prompting an investigation that is still ongoing.
“[Internal affairs is] following up and being very thorough on the investigation to ensure that this was an isolated incident,” Foster said. “…I was very offended, and couldn’t believe that an officer had sent that out."
As of Tuesday, Foster said McDonough is still active on the force, and possible disciplinary action has not been determined. Foster said based on an apology email McDonough later sent, he believes the officer was “referenc[ing] the masks and the fit” instead of the racist nature of the "Django Unchained" scene.
In a statement released via Facebook, Norman Citizens for Racial Justice said the email’s content is made all the more serious by Norman’s former ties to the KKK. Up until late 2017, the city had a street named for KKK Grand Dragon Edwin DeBarr, who taught at the University of Oklahoma in the early 20th century.
“[The email] itself was a contentious issue, but add to that invocations of the KKK just a few years after we got rid of a street named after a leader of the KKK and the NPD dragged a homeless black man named Marconia Kessee across the Norman Regional Hospital parking lot as he was literally dying,” Norman Citizens for Racial Justice’s post reads. "Norman used to be a Sundown Town - maybe it still is."
Mayor Breea Clark responded to The Black Wall Street Times’ report about the email thread late Monday, writing that she is "confident this matter will be investigated thoroughly and that appropriate corrective action will be taken.”
Clark asked that Norman Citizens Advisory Board hold a special meeting and give Foster feedback, and that she plans to hold a community forum on the incident as soon as is safe to do so. Foster said Tuesday morning that he plans to talk with the advisory board later Tuesday or Wednesday.
In response to a question about whether the NPD needs to re-evaluate its racial sensitivity training in light of the incident, Foster said he believes the department’s current measures are effective.
“I believe that our in-service and our prior trainings are working, and that is apparent by [McDonough] being called so quickly on it,” Foster said. “This is the judgment of one officer sending a photo out like that, and regardless of what he was thinking, the inappropriateness of it and how it offends people is still there."