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Officer cleared of wrongdoing for 2016 social media post becomes target of “citizen review board”

The Fort Lauderdale Citizens’ Police Review Board disagreed with a department decision that cleared a sergeant of wrongdoing over her social media posts.

Angie DiMichele

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

A Fort Lauderdale cop was cleared of wrongdoing for a social media post that some construed as critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. Now a citizens’ review panel is contesting the decision.

Sgt. Maggie Dietrich in 2016 posted a photo to Facebook of an American Airlines flight attendant wearing a Black Lives Matter pin, records show. She shared the photo, which she credited to another user, to the airline’s account with the caption “disgraceful.”

The police department found no issue with Dietrich’s post, saying she was acting as a private citizen and her intentions were unclear.

The Fort Lauderdale Citizens’ Police Review Board disagreed during a meeting this week. Now, the case will end up on the desk of City Manager Chris Lagerbloom, who will weigh in on how the case will be resolved.

Dietrich’s post resurfaced after the South Florida Sun Sentinel asked the police department whether it was aware of the post and whether it violated the department’s social media policy. The newspaper was reviewing lists of sworn members in multiple departments who were questioned about their social media policies.

The Sun Sentinel’s inquiry led to an Internal Affairs investigation into Dietrich’s post. After the inquiry, Dietrich, in June 2020, was pulled from her duties overseeing multiple Black Lives Matter protests in Fort Lauderdale, Internal Affairs records show.

The investigation ended in May with the conclusion that Dietrich didn’t violate any department policy with her post. Dietrich told investigators that her comment was not a statement about Black Lives Matters; it was a response to a conversation another police officer had with the flight attendant, records of the investigation show.

“The gist of his post was something along the lines of he was wearing a police shirt and he had an encounter with an American Airlines flight attendant, I guess they clashed a little,” according to the Internal Affairs investigation.

Investigators said too much time had passed to verify Dietrich’s account of what happened; they couldn’t find the original post; and Dietrich was posting while off duty as a citizen, Internal Affairs records show.

Christina Currie, chairwoman of the citizens review board, is not satisfied. She takes issue with comments Dietrich purportedly gave to Buzzfeed, one of several media outlets that reported on Dietrich’s post back in 2016.

The Internal Affairs records reference two articles published about the post that included comments from Dietrich. Buzzfeed reported that Dietrich said she did not support any movement, Black Lives Matter included, that “promotes murdering police officers, arsons, theft or all out civil disobedience.”

Another article quotes Dietrich as saying, in part, that the Black Lives Matter movement “has done absolutely nothing but promote hate and violence” and that Black Lives Matter “supports the murder of police officers. They burn down cities and disrupt the lives of other citizens.” It also quotes Dietrich as saying she supports “civil rights movements that promote equality.”

Dietrich said she was speaking with one of the reporters through Facebook and did not realize they were a journalist. Regardless, Currie said the comments could reflect negatively on the public’s view of the department. The department’s social media policy holds employees to a higher standard than the public, she noted.

“It’s a big deal when you can get a majority of people to say we’re not going to go along with the findings of the police department,” Currie told the Sun Sentinel.

Dietrich appears to have closed the social media accounts that were questioned. A spokeswoman said Dietrich and the police department would not comment on the investigation.

The Internal Affairs investigator asked Dietrich what Black Lives Matter meant to her in 2016, records show.

“I mean, I know what it means to me now, I mean having had five years of growth and time and aging, and this organization has changed so much from 2016 to now, I — it’d be hard to answer what I was thinking on that day versus now because it’s all muddied,” Dietrich answered.

The investigator then asked her what her stance on Black Lives Matter is now.

“I can also say I don’t know much about it, but honestly, if they’re a civil rights movement and they’re trying to do better for Black lives, then who wouldn’t support that?” she said.

Dietrich’s social media posts have also been reviewed in the past, but none were found to violate the department’s social media policy.

Records show investigators have reminded her of the department’s social media policy in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Complaints included one in 2018 from a citizen who was concerned about a comment Dietrich made about the hijab some Muslims wear, saying the practice is “forced upon women and is a sign of repression by men.” Another citizen complained in 2016, claiming Dietrich had posted “racially insensitive remarks” on her LinkedIn account but failed to show any proof, records show.

Dietrich also was investigated recently after Currie filed a complaint to the city manager over Dietrich’s body camera footage, which captured her saying, in the presence of officers under her command, “drop him on his f—– head” as a handcuffed, passed-out Black man was carried to a squad car, records show.

She was suspended for eight hours, and the review board unanimously recommended she have stress management training, records show.

©2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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