Metro Weekly

Police Officer Resigns Over Anti-Gay Facebook Post

Jacob Kersey resigned even after being cleared of wrongdoing, deciding to stand by a post expressing opposition to gay marriage.

Police car lights – Photo: Scott Rodgerson, via Unsplash

A former police officer who was suspended and investigated for a social media post expressing opposition to gay marriage resigned last month, claiming he feared being fired for expressing his beliefs.

Jacob Kersey, a former officer with the Port Wentworth Police Department, in Port Wentworth, Georgia, a city of 11,000 residents located just outside Savannah, was placed on paid administrative leave on Jan. 4 after refusing to take down the offending Facebook post.

Two days earlier, the 19-year-old Kersey had posted his opinion about marriage: “God designed marriage. Marriage refers to Christ and the church. That’s why there is no such thing as homosexual marriage.”

On Jan. 3, Kersey claims to have received a phone call from his supervisor, who told him that someone had complained about the post, and ordered him to remove it. Kersey refused, and the supervisor warned him that not deleting the post could result in his termination.

Kersey was then contacted by another superior, Lt. Justin Hardy, who told him the police department didn’t want to be held liable in a “use of force” situation involving someone in the LGBTQ community.

Kersey still refused to take down the post, according to the Daily Signal, a right-wing publication published by the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

Finally, Kersey received a phone call from a third superior, Maj. Lee Sherrod, ordering him to come to the office the following morning and turn in everything in his possession belonging to the city.

Kersey told the Daily Signal he thought he was going to be fired, but upon arriving at the police station, he was informed that he’d be placed on administrative leave while an investigation into the Facebook post was conducted.

In the meeting, held with Hardy, Sherrod, Capt. Nathan Jentzen, and Police Chief Matt Libby, Kersey claims that he was told he was “wise beyond my years, an old soul, and that they brag on me all the time, but that I couldn’t post things like that.”

He alleges that Libby told him the Facebook post was the “same thing as saying the N-word and ‘F*** all those homosexuals,'” and was told that his free speech “was limited” due to his position as a police officer.

Although Kersey was ultimately not fired, and found not to have engaged in any wrongdoing, he decided to quit due to fear that he could be fired in the future for other social media posts that some might deem offensive.  

In a letter to Kersey, Sherrod explained that while the investigation “did not find sufficient evidence to establish a violation of any policies,” his posts regarding “protected classes,” such as the LGBTQ community, “could raise reasonable concerns regarding your objectivity and the performance of your job duties when a member or suspected member of the LGBTQ+ community is involved.”

Sherrod also explained that if future social media posts or other statements he might make were to compromise his ability to carry out his duties, or “to be seen as able to perform” his job “in a fair and equitable manner,” he could risk termination.

Sherrod also reminded Kersey that same-sex marriage is currently legal nationwide following the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges — despite laws currently on the books in Georgia prohibiting same-sex nuptials. 

Kersey said he met with department leadership, who wanted him to resume his job after being cleared by the investigation, but claims the chief and others were trying to create a policy that could limit his ability to express his beliefs openly. He was told he could post direct Scripture quotations, but not his interpretation of them.

“That is such a dangerous precedent: that if you’re off-duty on your own time, that you could say anything — even something religious, even something at church —  if someone somewhere gets offended, you can get fired for it,” he told Fox News.

Ultimately, Kersey’s discomfort with the situation led him to resign on Jan. 18.

“I didn’t feel confident that if I were to go out there on the streets and enforce the law, that my command staff was going to have my back,” he said. “It’s just too dangerous of a job to do that. And I did not think it wise to go back to work under those circumstances.”

He claims other officers have expressed support for him privately, but are unwilling to speak out publicly due to fear of reprisal — something he argues shouldn’t happen in the U.S., where free speech is supposed to be protected by the First Amendment.

“I totally understand why other officers don’t want to speak out,” he said. “I’m a 19-year-old single young man. I don’t have a lot of financial responsibilities, so I’m able to speak out against this because the only thing I have to lose really is my job.”

Kersey, who grew up in a broken home and became a police officer, in part, because he was encouraged by the kindness shown to him by officers responding to his family’s domestic problems, says he never had any complaints about how he did his job. He is uncertain of what he’ll do next for employment. But he doesn’t regret standing by his beliefs.

He told the Daily Signal that sharing his story “could very well mean I will not have another opportunity to be a police officer. That has been an extremely difficult reality to accept, but I sincerely believe speaking up is the right thing to do.”

Last week, Libby, the police chief, announced his retirement. According to Savannah-based NBC affiliate WSAV, he later indicated that he had been asked to retire. WSAV spoke to Mayor Gary Norton, who placed the blame on some city council members who pushed for Libby’s ouster from the department. The city manager told the news station that Libby “was asked to retire, in lieu of other investigations and other issues, and violations that were out there.”

Although the city manager said that Libby’s departure was not related to the negative publicity the department received in the wake of Kersey’s resignation, Kersey was not shy about offering his own opinion.

He told Fox News that he hopes that Libby’s replacement will introduce policies to ensure that “another officer is not bullied for practicing their religious beliefs when they’re off duty,” as he was.

“I would hope that this is the start of a positive change there in Port Wentworth,” Kersey said. “I hope that the other members of the command staff would publicly apologize for the incident and that they would commit to ensuring that something like this does not happen again.”

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