MEDIA — More than 60 protesters stood in front of the headquarters of the Delaware County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 27 Saturday, calling for the removal of borough Police Sgt. Robert “Skippy” Carroll after he posted social media comments some found threatening.
On Wednesday, Caroll, who is an FOP first vice president, posted a response on the lodge’s official Facebook page that read, “If you choose to speak out against the police or our members, we will do everything in our power to not support your business.” Then, on his own personal Facebook page, Carroll added, “Try us. We’ll destroy you.” Both comments have since been removed.
Media Mayor Bob McMahon confirmed the 25-year decorated law enforcement officer, who also holds a leadership position with the Pennsylvania Municipal Police Education and Training Commission, has since been placed on paid administrative leave.
At a separate vigil hosted by the NAACP Media Area branch and the Media Fellowship House entitled “We are Done Dying,” the mayor spoke to the 1,000 gathered in front of the Delaware County Courthouse Saturday afternoon.
“Now is the time is for Americans to come together,” McMahon said. “The killing of George Floyd has been a wake up call for America and the momentum is growing. This week, an individual member of our Media Police Department made posts on social media that do not reflect the thoughts of the borough or our police department. I can assure you that I, borough council and our police chief are taking appropriate action with regards to the matter. The Media Police Department is dedicated to serving everyone in a professional and non-biased manner.”
McMahon said the length of Carroll’s leave is at borough officials’ discretion and could be approximately 15 days.
“There are a lot of questions that need to be asked of him,” the mayor said, adding that a review will be underway. “That process has not begun yet.”
Organizers of Saturday’s event outside the FOP headquarters shared their perspective.
“This is not just an instance that is about one business interaction,” Kabeera Weissman of the Delaware County Coalition for Prison Reform said. “This is about a pattern of intimidating small business, of misuse of office. This is not the only business that Sgt. Carroll has been alleged to have intimidated. It is an abuse of his office.”
Plus, she added, it’s threatening.
“When a police officer uses his official account to threaten those who speak out against police, he’s threatening every protester in Delaware County,” Weissman said. “That is a threat that I feel and that is a threat that I feel for anyone who wants to use their Constitutional rights to peacefully assemble. When he says, ‘Try us. We’ll destroy you,’ it is a threat that contains violence and it is not acceptable.”
The Delco FOP issued its own statement, as did Carroll.
The FOP’s read: “Recently, a team member of ours posted an inappropriate comment on this platform directed at our business community, we offer our sincere apology and ask for your forgiveness. This post did not meet the integrity or values of our (1,100) members and we’re sorry for the mistake.
“We promise to do better and we have heard loud and clear the anguish of those in Delaware County and across the nation,” it continued. “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our business community, residents and law enforcement as we address concerns raised by peaceful demonstrators and protesters. Our officers pledge to serve our boroughs and townships with dignity, respect and professionalism.
“Police officers across Delaware County are aware of ongoing developments in Minnesota and we send our thoughts and prayers to George Floyd’s family and friends,” it ended.
Carroll’s statement read, “This is a trying time for law enforcement. Officers are being murdered and assaulted at a record pace. Wednesday night I made a post that was poorly worded and interpreted by some as inciting violence. That was not my intention and I apologize to those who were offended.”
At least one police department represented by the FOP Lodge 27, took its own stance.
“(W)e do not share that position,” Upper Darby Police Supt. Timothy Bernhardt wrote. “In fact, we find this to be in direct contradiction to the steps we have already taken, and will continue to take, to ensure professional and fair police service in Upper Darby Township … You have a right to speak, and you deserve a police department that listens. We want a true partnership with, not only our citizens, but our businesses, regardless of politics, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity,or any other defining factor.”
He asked for the public’s discernment. “Please do not let the opinions or positions of people unrelated to our organization reflect your view of the hardworking members of our department,” Bernhardt continued. “Our hope is that open and honest communication can continue the healing process, and that ultimately, with hard work and determination, we can stay united.”
Delaware County Council also issued a statement on Friday.
“Though the FOP subsequently apologized, the damage was done, and the incident reinforced the perception that many rightfully have that law enforcement cannot always be trusted to appreciate the imbalance of power that they wield; that carrying a weapon and a badge also carries tremendous responsibility to treat the community with equality of respect, and therefore, the need for systemic reform within law enforcement in America.”
County council also hoped for unity.
“(W)e could … choose to take these events and use them as an opportunity to bring us together, and further our understanding of those whose life experiences have greatly differed from our own,” its statement read. “It doesn’t have to be ‘either/or.'”
The county leaders said more will come towards addressing the divisive issues coming to the surface now.
“We will be exploring opportunities in the coming weeks to formally bring all parts of our community, including law enforcement, to the table to create an ongoing dialogue toward the goals of much-needed reform and mutual understanding,” council said. “We hope you will join us in taking this opportunity as one to grown, and instead of dividing, to come together.”
As demonstrators chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Sgt. Carroll has got to go,” and “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police,” Weissman said the sergeant needs to leave. On Change.org, there were more than 6,000 signatures combined on two petitions also calling for his removal.
“If he does not resign, the Media Police Department needs to fire him,” she said. “The Media Police Department also needs to look at how it is dealing with accountability for its officers. This is a cultural problem for the Media Police Department. It’s systemic and it needs to stop.”
Weissman continued, “Black Lives Matter is a call for valuing the humanity of black people. It is not a call against police but we will speak out against police brutality and against police racism.”
Septuagenarians Paul and Fran Sheldon social distanced as best they could at the protest and felt, despite the pandemic, it was important to attend.
“I want a police that is responsible to the citizenry and that protects all citizens,” Paul Sheldon said. “Skippy does not seem to fit that category.”
His wife, who’s lived in Media for 20 years, was aghast.
“How can somebody in that position just think that it’s all right?” she said. “He’s trained. He’s a professional in policing and de-escalation and he chooses to escalate something that’s based on racism … It’s beyond belief that he can feel comfortable doing that and it’s beyond belief that people can say, ‘Oh, it’s all blown over now. We’ve made up.'”
She, like others at the protest, felt the sting of Carroll’s words.
“It wasn’t just between Skippy and this (business owner),” Sheldon said. “It was between Skippy and all of the residents of Delaware County. I believed that Media was safe. I believed that.”
When asked if she still believed that, she paused. “It doesn’t matter,” she added. “It really doesn’t matter.”