Geneva Police officer Brian Choffin, who organized the “Support GPD and Law Enforcement Rally” on July 1, 2020, has been actively engaging in social media conversations in recent months with the Geneva community about police reform.
Choffin, a former detective who is reportedly nearing retirement, has used his Facebook account to:
- confront community members who support police reform,
- deny the existence of systemic racism in Geneva,
- mock the death of George Floyd,
- refer to Black Lives Matter and The People’s Peaceful Protest organizers as “liars” and “terrorists” who are engaging in “racism.”
- criticize and personally attack the City Manager and multiple city councilors (including Ward 1’s Tom Burrall, Ward 3’s Jan Regan and Ward 4’s Ken Camera).
Are Geneva Police officers allowed to publicly engage in this type of activity on social media?
Geneva Believer has obtained a copy of the Geneva Police Department’s Social Media Policy, which states that all social media activity by officers should be “representative of Departmental values.”
Officers who violate the Social Media Policy would be subject to discipline, “up to and including termination of office.”
Is Choffin violating the Social Media Policy? And if he is, why isn’t GPD Chief Mike Passalacqua holding the officer accountable, like he promised the community he would?
GPD Social Media Policy – “Personal Use” Section
The Geneva Police Department Social Media Policy provides a set of guidelines for the conduct of officers who use social media. The policy includes rules for official Police Department social media accounts, as well as for officers’ personal social media accounts.
Read the full Geneva Police Department Social Media Policy here.
The “Personal Use” section (IV (B)) explains that while officers are allowed to express themselves using personal accounts on social media, there are many restrictions on what they are allowed to say online, regardless of whether they are on- or off-duty.
Here are some (but not all) of the restrictions on social media speech for GPD personnel:
- GPD personnel are not allowed to post anything on social media that can “impair the working relationships of this Department for which trust and confidentiality are important” or “negatively affect the public perception of the Department.”
- GPD personnel are informed that their conduct on social media will “reflect upon their office and this Department,” and that all social media activity “should be representative of Departmental values.”
- GPD personnel are not allowed to “disseminate any information or imagery…gained in their official capacity to which they have access as a result of their employment without written permission from the Chief of Police or his/her designee.”
- GPD personnel are prohibited from engaging in speech about themselves or other officers “reflecting behavior that might reasonably be considered reckless or irresponsible.”
- GPD personnel are prohibited from using “forms of speech that ridicule, malign, disparage, or otherwise express bias against any race, any religion, or any protected class of individuals.”
- GPD personnel who violate the Social Media Policy are “subject to discipline up to and including termination of office.” Violation of the policy also “may provide grounds for undermining or impeaching an officer’s testimony in criminal proceedings.”
The policy also provides other warnings and recommendations for officer conduct on social media:
- GPD personnel “are cautioned not to disclose their employment with this Department” for “safety and security reasons.”
- GPD personnel are cautioned to “be aware that they may be subject to civil litigation” for “posting false information that harms the reputation of another person, group or organization (defamation)“, and for publishing “private facts or personal information about someone without their permission that has not been previously revealed to the public, is not of legitimate public concern, and would be offensive to a reasonable person.”
Choffin On City Council and the City Manager
April 14th, 2020
An anonymous Facebook page published a post that made the following claims about several current elected and appointed city officials, all of whom are women:
- City Manager Sage Gerling is claimed to have “pushed Censorship against the Chief.”
- Ward 5 City Councilor Laura Salamendra is claimed to have “obvious and unreasonable distain (sic)” for the GPD.
- Ward 3 City Councilor Jan Regan is accused of “using the…Geneva Historical Society to prop up her personal Photography business.”
No evidence for any of the accusations is given in the post.
Brian Choffin commented on the post, stating:
Very very well said.
July 13, 2020
In a pro-police Facebook group, Choffin commented and encouraged police supporters to sign up to speak during the upcoming City Council meeting on August 5th.
However, Choffin not only implied that he would join police supporters in protesting “in front of the councilors houses,” but he also encouraged people to let those councilors know “we mean business” because they “dare to disregard our voices.”
July 16, 2020
In a pro-police Facebook group, in response to another user’s comment about Ward 1 Councilor Tom Burrall, Choffin states that Burrall “lives in a bubble,” “never (had) to work for anything,” and that Councilors Camera and Salamendra found Burrall “easy to brainwash.”
July 16, 2020
In a pro-police Facebook group, in response to another user’s comment about city council’s ability to investigate city employee misconduct, Choffin says that the five members of City Council who voted in favor of police reforms “need to wake up” so that Geneva isn’t “led down a negative, dirty and unlawful path by the suggestions and intimidation of a few small minded individuals.”
Social Media Policy Violations?
When Choffin accuses the City Manager of censorship, or accuses city councilors of misconduct (without any evidence) or being “brainwashed” into leading Geneva down a “negative, dirty and unlawful path,” does he “impair the working relationship” the Police Department has with city officials “for which trust and confidentiality are important“?
Could Choffin’s comments implying that he, an armed police officer, will be joining pro-police protests outside of councilor’s homes to show them “we mean business” be considered “behavior that might reasonably be considered reckless or irresponsible“? And do his comments “negatively affect the public perception of the Department“?
Are Choffin’s comments about city officials “representative of the (Geneva Police Department’s) values“?
Choffin on Black Lives Matter, People’s Peaceful Protest, and Systemic Racism
July 5, 2020
A meme mocking the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by Minneapolis Police, was posted in a right-wing Facebook group, and Choffin replied, “Hilarious.”
July 9, 2020
Another meme posted in a right-wing Facebook group refers to Black Lives Matter as “racist” and Choffin shows his agreement with the sentiment by “liking” the post.
July 13, 2020
A video showing a pro-police demonstration was shared in a right-wing Facebook group.
Choffin commented on the video and referred to Black Lives Matter as “terrorists.”
July 19, 2020
A user on a pro-police Facebook page posted photos from a recent Back the Blue event.
In the comment section, Choffin calls one of the BLM Geneva: People’s Peaceful Protest organizers, Adam Fryer, a “pathological liar” who tells lies for “attention.”
July 19, 2020
City Councilor Frank Gaglianese published a Facebook post comprised solely of the words, “BULLSHIT…
and false accusations!”
Also in the same comment section, Choffin claimed that he’s “never ever seen…systemic racism” in Geneva, insisting that Black and Hispanic children in the city “have always had the same opportunities as white children.” He also claimed that “free study groups and free study guides” were available to people of color who wanted to take the civil service exam, “while the white applicants had to pay $200 for the same offer,” ostensibly as proof that systemic racism doesn’t exist.
Social Media Policy Violations?
When Choffin jokes about the death of George Floyd, does he “impair the working relationship” the Police Department has with the black community “for which trust and confidentiality are important“? Does his joke “ridicule, malign, disparage, or otherwise express bias against any race?” And do his comments “negatively affect the public perception of the Department”?
When Choffin calls Black Lives Matter “terrorists” and “racist,” does that “impair the working relationship” and the “trust” between the police and the community members who support BLM Geneva: The People’s Peaceful Protest?
When Choffin accuses the organizers of The People’s Peaceful Protest of “racism” and lies, is he being “representative of the (Geneva Police Department’s) values“?
When Choffin insists that there is no systemic racism in Geneva, and points out that people of color received free assistance with civil service exam preparation while white applicants had to pay $200, is he “disparag(ing) or…expressing bias against (a) race?” Are his comments “representative of the (Geneva Police Department’s) values“? And do his comments “negatively affect the public perception of the Department”?
Choffin on Geneva Believer
Initially, I was hesitant to publish information in this article about my own encounters with Brian Choffin on Facebook, because I was concerned that some people might conclude that this article is really a story about “Geneva Believer vs. Brian Choffin.”
Ultimately, this story isn’t about Geneva Believer, and it’s not only about Brian Choffin.
This story is about the lack of accountability, and the culture that allows for it, within the Geneva Police Department.
November 2, 2019
On anonymous Facebook page, in the comment section of a post about a city councilor, a person issued a thinly veiled threat towards me. The individual warned me to “be prepared for eventual retaliation” from people in Geneva, suggesting that I go back to “whatever f***in town (I) got kicked out of last” because “alot of people” were “not happy” with me. I have never posted on the page.
Choffin showed his support for the comments by “liking” the post.
June 27, 2020
A post on the Geneva Believer Facebook page reporting a possible leak of confidential city council information prompted Choffin to direct a dozen comments toward me.
Within an approximately 20 minute span, Choffin:
- falsely claimed that I had been fired from two previous jobs,
- repeatedly called me a “liar” and a “hoax,”
- claimed that the city attorney and the city’s attorney “on retainer” were preparing a lawsuit against me on behalf of him for libel and defamation.
Asked to provide examples of lies that I have published about him, he replied “I was never demoted. I have nothing on my record for excessive abuse.”
But I have never reported that Choffin was demoted, nor have I ever reported that he has anything on his record for “excessive abuse.”
Choffin also lied about my work history to try and discredit me. Because he is a former detective with the GPD, some readers might reasonably assume that he has access to information about me that the general public might not have, and that he’s telling the truth because he’s a police officer.
When Choffin repeatedly insists that I’m a “liar” and a “hoax” without providing examples, he is using his implied credibility as a former detective to try and discredit me.
Also within the same approximately 20 minute span, Choffin:
- challenged me several times to meet with him face to face,
- made a reference to where I live,
- made a reference to where I work
Choffin didn’t explain how he knew where I live and where I work. When an apparently angry, armed police officer challenges me to meet him in person and mentions where I live and where I work, it feels like an attempt to intimidate me.
Social Media Policy Violations?
On July 6, 2020, I filed a complaint against Brian Choffin with the Geneva Police Department for comments he made to me on the Geneva Believer Facebook page on June 27, 2020.
On July 15, 2020, I received the following letter via certified mail from the Geneva Police Department:
Dear Mr. Meaney,
This letter is to inform you that the Geneva Police Department Complaint Action form you filed with the City of Geneva on July 6, 2020 is being investigated by my office, as directed by Chief Michael J. Passalacqua. You will receive a written response as soon as my investigation is complete.
Our internal CR (Complaint Report) for this investigation is 2020-21314.
Lt. Jeffrey Potter, 803
A Real-Time Example of Why We Need A Police Accountability Board
On July 1st, the Geneva City Council listened to the people and passed several historic resolutions to increase accountability for the Geneva Police Department.
Within days of those resolutions passing, GPD Officer Brian Choffin started posting inflammatory, insensitive, ugly and unprofessional comments on Facebook, providing the community with a real-time, textbook example of why Geneva so desperately needs an independent Police Accountability Board with investigative and disciplinary powers.
Choffin seems to be flagrantly and repeatedly violating company policy in public. Many other GPD officers, including Chief Mike Passalacqua, are active on social media and undoubtedly have seen one or more of Choffin’s posts over the last several weeks and months.
But none of Choffin’s fellow officers or superiors have done anything to address the problem. The police aren’t policing themselves.
And that’s not accountability.
Contact City Council and ask them why Chief Passalacqua is allowing officer Choffin to engage in public conduct that deeply damages the relationship between the police and community, while creating the impression that our police and our city aren’t welcoming, inclusive and fair.