The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Police chief ousted after calling Black Lives Matter a terrorist group in Facebook post

A man holds a sign reading “Black Lives Matter” during 2014 demonstrations in Boston following the grand jury decision in the Missouri shooting death of Michael Brown. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Mike Halstead, a 35-year police veteran, posts a fairly typical mix of content on his personal Facebook page: photos of his car’s new tint job, links to fundraisers, his thoughts on the recent deaths of police officers in the line of duty.

But one Facebook post, labeled as an “open letter from a police chief,” led to Halstead’s early retirement from the force in tiny Surf City, N.C. In a 662-word post — the text of which NBC affiliate WECT copied before Halstead apparently deleted it — the chief wrote: “This Black Lives Matter group is nothing more than an American born terrorist group brought on by the lie of the hands up don’t shoot during the criminal thug Michael Brown incident.”

By Tuesday, news of the open letter had spread, and the town council in Surf City, about 35 miles from Wilmington, N.C., approved Halstead’s early retirement in a closed session, according to the Daily News in Jackonsville, N.C.

The longtime police chief took to his personal Facebook page once again early Wednesday morning to respond to the retirement. He wrote that after 35 years in law enforcement, he was “forced to retire or be terminated.”

“I was thrown under the bus for expressing my 1st amendment rights and speaking the truth and concerns for law enforcement,” Halstead wrote. But, he added: “I also apologize to those I have offended, that was not my intent.”

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In the original Facebook post, Halstead compared the Black Lives Matter movement to white supremacist groups and blamed the government, “our so called President” and others for the “race problem in this country.” He continued: “I have been a Police Officer for 35 years. I do not judge anyone by the color of their skin, but by there [sic] actions.”

Halstead also blamed media coverage for line-of-duty deaths — a rookie Kentucky State Police trooper who was fatally shot on Sunday was at least the 25th on-duty police officer to be killed by gunfire in 2015, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

“I have instructed my officers to be vigilant, if threatened take appropriate action,” Halstead wrote. “If that means shoot a thug, then do it and answer for it while you are still alive not dead. Law Enforcement is fed up with this murderous society who want to take out those who protect and serve.”

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Surf City’s town manager, Larry Bergman, was alerted to the open letter this week, according to local media reports. Bergman told WECT that he reminded Halstead “that as public employees we are often held to higher level of scrutiny and that even if it is a personal social media account and despite not associating himself directly to the town in his posting, that some will draw the connection.”

Bergman told the Daily News that Halstead removed the Facebook post on his own and that the town doesn’t have policies regarding how employees use social media.

In recent weeks, Halstead posted on Facebook about officers killed in the line of duty. “This is getting out of hand,” he wrote in one post. In another, he referred to the shooting deaths of two reporters in Virginia during a morning newscast and wondered why those deaths were receiving so much media attention.

“Although very tragic that the 2 reporters were killed in VA. should they get continuous reporting all morning when the LA. State Trooper and other Police killed get 10 seconds of coverage. Just asking,” Halstead wrote.

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NAACP leaders in the state said that they planned to meet with lawyers regarding Halstead’s open letter. North Carolina NAACP President William J. Barber II described the Black Lives Matter post as “troubling” to the Daily News.

“It is not just the words in the post that are troubling, but the attitude of this chief and his officers who are called to protect and serve people — all people,” Barber told the newspaper.


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