BY JAMES HARPER
The Volusia County Beach Patrol officer fired for “offensive’’ text messages and pictures sent while on duty will appeal his dismissal.
Jason Harr, attorney for Todd Snipes, sent a request to be heard on Aug. 13 to the county’s human resources office via fax and through the U.S. Postal Service.
“We are requesting that we be provided advance notice and the opportunity to be heard on the matter, before any additional action is taken,’’ wrote Harr.
Snipes received notice of his dismissal Aug. 9 from George Recktenwald, director of the county’s Department of Public Protection.
A Facebook group started last week titled “Support Todd Snipes” has attracted more than 400 supporters, said Greg Gimbert, the creator of the post.
In an exclusive interview with the Daytona Times this week, Gimbert said he went to junior high with Snipes and called him “a regular, nice guy.’’
Gimbert said he and Snipes reconnected a few years ago while he was working with a group that wanted to get rid of the beach patrol officers.
He said Snipes called him to go on a ride along to see what they do. Afterward, Gimbert said he changed his mind to support the need for the officers. During their encounter, he said Snipes was the same guy he knew growing up.
“Folks who know him know he is no racist. He is a good guy getting tore up because of politics,” Gimbert said.
He said Snipes may deserve a scolding or smack for his actions but said “crucifying’’ Todd is not right.
Gimbert said he has spoken to Snipes since he sent the texts and the Facebook posting.
Although he said Snipes would not go in to details, Gimbert said he did say his actions were “the biggest regret of his life.”
Gimbert said the feelings of Black leaders about the texts are real and valid but they should have an open mind and look at Snipes’ entire record.
He said he was not aware of any complaints of racism against Snipes.
“To preach forgiveness and offer none, I struggle with that,” Gimbert said referring to members of the Black clergy who have been out front calling for Snipes’ ouster along with the local NAACP.
Right to appeal
Gimbert said for now he has no intention of organizing the followers of the “Support Todd Snipes” Facebook group.
“I don’t want to do anything to hurt his case. I’m not trying to make (this) a bigger deal than it is,” said Gimbert, adding his intent was to show that Snipes does have support in the community.
Upon learning that Snipes had requested to appeal his firing, Daytona Beach/Volusia NAACP President Cynthia Slater said “under the merit system rules, he has a right to an appeals process.”
“However, it is my hope that the dismissal stands. In his duty as a public safety officer, Snipes’ acts were egregious, to say the least,” Slater said.
“To disseminate or even take part in this behavior was unethical. It is my opinion that Snipes felt it was acceptable to send this type of racist information out through social media for anyone to have access. I question his judgment and behavior not only in this incident, but in his duties as an officer.’’
Also since Snipes’ firing, Volusia County has released the entire internal investigation packet, which included documents, interviews and photos of text messages.
Snipes was interviewed on July 29 by Captain David Vanis with his attorney present.
According to the transcript, Vanis told Snipes “neither your statements, nor any information or evidence that is gained by reason of such statements can be used against you in any subsequent criminal proceeding. These statements may be used against you in relation to division disciplinary actions.”
Created as a joke
Snipes said he did not find offensive the pictures he texted or that were texted to him, but he did admit others in the public might find them offensive and racist.
Snipes said it was never his intention for the posts he sent to be seen by anyone other than the persons he chose to text and said they were created as a joke.
Snipes also wanted to make it clear the pictures that have been reported in the media were not on his Facebook page but sent via his phone.
In spite of his actions, Snipes said he still believes the public would trust him to be impartial and fair with minority groups.
Started last month
He blamed the media for starting lies about the incident, which may be affecting the reputation of the Volusia County Beach Patrol office.
“I’d be the first, if I offended anyone on the beach, I’d be the first to apologize to them,” he continued.
According to the conclusion of the internal investigation obtained by the Daytona Times, Beach Safety Director Swanson received information on July 16 that Snipes had sent a derogatory racial texts and picture messages to several individuals.
The person giving this information to Swanson wished to remain anonymous.
Who got text, photos
According to information in the investigation, the thread was originally started by Snipes on July 14 at 8:13 p.m.
The pictures were sent to current employees Michael Berard, Officer John Texter and Officer Russell St. John. All three were interviewed for the investigation.
The initial picture also was sent to four former employees and three other phone numbers not associated with Volusia County Beach Safety employees.
Three other pictures were sent by unknown parties, not beach safety employees.
None of the other current or former, beach safety personnel ever replied to, nor submitted pictures to the text thread.
The person who reported it also shared with Swanson the Facebook posting Snipes had posted on July 14, 2013. The posting read, “Another thug gone! Pull up your pants and act respectful. Bye Bye thug, rip”, a response to the George Zimmerman second-degree murder trial.
Zimmerman was acquitted on July 13 in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
‘Lack of judgment’
Swanson determined the images sent by Snipes were profane and inappropriate for one of his employees to be transmitting.
Snipes has admitted to initiating the text thread with a picture of Paula Dean while he was on duty. He also said he sent a picture depicting a dark-skinned George Zimmerman and a teenaged White male. The other pictures with the text threads were sent by friends of his that are not associated with Volusia County.
The fired officer also admitted to posting “Another thug…..” on his Facebook page, but not while on duty.
He was aware of the county’s social media policy, which he signed on Jan. 12 of this year.
In a letter from Recktenwald to Snipes on Aug. 9, the director stated that “given the serious nature of this misconduct, gross lack of judgment, the negative light in which you cast your division, consequential damages that have affected you colleagues, organization and community and consistent with the recommendations of your supervisors within your chain of command, I am proceeding with my intended action to dismiss you.”