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Did Vigo County Get it Wrong?

I think we can all agree that the problem with cancel culture is not one-sided. It’s not that conservatives never think people should be canceled or that liberals think everyone should be canceled. The real problem is that there’s no agreed upon standard. It wasn’t that long ago that the Dixie Chicks were canceled by conservatives for criticizing the president, and liberals refuse to cancel comedian Sacha Baron Cohen despite his continuous transgressions. While we can’t usually control who is canceled at the national level, we can hold people in our local communities to a higher standard of honesty and integrity. 

In my hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana, our County Clerk Brad Newman, who’s also a police officer, came under intense public scrutiny after sharing a controversial Facebook post. He was relieved of duty, an investigation was conducted, the results were published, and the community was not satisfied. Over five hundred people signed a petition for Newman’s termination and the subject was brought to the Merit Commission. Before the Commission meeting, Brad met with a small group of people representing members of the community who felt endangered by his comments, and lied about why he had not apologized publicly. Days later the Commission met and decided not to take any further action.  

In his initial post Brad had suggested that the United States should preemptively “nuke” China, as revenge for the role they played in the Coronavirus epidemic, and when asked whether or not he was serious he replied, “Absolutely! Smoke’em.” After a complaint was filed against Newman, an investigation was conducted by the police department, and in the letter of suspension the lead investigator stated that he believed Brad did not have a bias toward any race or nationality . However, he was suspended six days for violating the police department’s social media policy, and the full details of his discipline can be found in the Terre Haute Tribune Star.

In the days following the publication of the results from the investigation, another citizen filed a request for Newman’s disciplinary history and the record showed seven suspensions, including discipline for neglect of duty, a use of force violation, falsifying departmental records, and conduct unbecoming an officer. Two of these suspensions were for the same infraction and occurred within a two year period, which is a direct violation of the Merit Commission’s Rules (Section 7-11) and should have resulted in an escalation of discipline but apparently did not. After a detailed record of these violations came to the public’s attention, over 500 residents signed a petition for his termination, and a case was brought forward at a meeting of the Merit Commission. 

During the Merit Commission meeting several members of the community came forward and voiced their concerns about Newman’s character and several came forward to support him. Then our local chief of police was allowed to speak for several minutes, and although he did not express his views on the decision making process as it related to this case, he did forcefully criticize several groups who he felt had unjustly called for Newman’s termination. Towards the end of the meeting the Merit Commission voted unanimously to approve the discipline that had already been recommended and decided not to take any further actions against the officer.

Prior to the convening of the Merit Commission, I was fortunate enough to take part in a meeting with Newman, the Chief of Police, and a few members of the local Interfaith Council representing members of the community that felt endangered by the comments Brad had made. During that meeting Brad listened to each person speak and then read an apology he had prepared in advance. When asked why he hadn’t shared the apology on Facebook, he stated that he had deleted his account and would not be using Facebook again. However, just a few days after the Merit Commission’s ruling, he reactivated his account, did not post his apology, but he did start posting other content. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, the problem with cancel culture isn’t one sided. There’s plenty of folks in our community who think Brad should have faced much tougher consequence, and those who felt he shouldn’t have been suspended at all. I personally think he should have faced tougher consequences but more than anything I am disappointed in a missed opportunity. Brad could have met with the Interfaith Council, expressed his apologies, and then shared those sentiments with the public. Instead, when it was clear that he wasn’t going to face any further consequences he went back on his word, and for all intents and purposes went back to business as usual.

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