Two police officers in Gretna, Louisiana, were fired Monday, four days after one of them referred to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a “vile idiot” on social media and suggested that she should be shot.
Chief Arthur Lawson of the Gretna Police Department announced the terminations, saying that Charles Rispoli, the officer who wrote the Facebook post, and Angelo Varisco, who liked the post online, had violated the department’s social media policy.
“This incident, we feel, has been an embarrassment to our department,” Lawson said at a news conference. “These officers have certainly acted in a manner which was unprofessional, alluding to a violent act to be conducted against a sitting U.S. congressman, a member of our government. We’re not going to tolerate that.”
Rispoli, a 14-year veteran of the Police Department, said in a Facebook post Thursday that Ocasio-Cortez “needs a round — and I don’t mean the kind she used to serve,” a reference to her past work as a bartender, according to a screenshot of the comment obtained by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.
Varisco joined the department in 2016. In the screenshot, his name can be seen as one of four who reacted to the post, either with a laughing face emoji or a thumbs-up.
Neither Rispoli nor Varisco could be reached for comment Monday evening.
“I applaud the investigation,” Mayor Belinda Constant said in an interview. “I think it was done appropriately, it was done expeditiously, and it absolutely was the right decision.”
Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is a self-described democratic socialist and has been a strong critic of President Donald Trump. She is one of four first-year female Democrats in the House — three of whom were born in the United States — who were told by Trump to “go back” to their countries in a Twitter post last week.
A representative for Ocasio-Cortez declined to comment Monday night.
Lawson said he had trouble understanding Rispoli’s post, especially since the article he shared — which claimed that Ocasio-Cortez had said soldiers were paid too much — was satirical.
“I think he just got caught up in the heat of the moment,” Lawson said. “And this wasn’t even a real news article.”
Neither officer had patrolled the streets, Lawson said. He said Varisco had provided security for the courts, and Rispoli had also worked in the courts before he began supervising “individuals who were in the home incarceration program.”
The action against the officers in Louisiana came at a time of increased scrutiny of police officers’ activity on social media.
Last month, researchers with the Plain View Project released a compilation of troubling posts made by public safety officers. They examined eight police departments across the country and found that — of the Facebook profiles they could verify — about 1 in 5 officers, including many in supervisory roles, and more than 2 in 5 former officers used content that was misogynist, racist, Islamophobic or otherwise biased, or that undermined the concept of due process.
The project spawned investigations and repercussions in Philadelphia, Phoenix, St. Louis and elsewhere.
Lawson said Gretna police officers had been trained and made aware of other episodes across the country in which officials had gotten into trouble for inappropriate social media posts.
“With all of those efforts, something like this still happens,” he said. “And it’s very disturbing. It certainly shows a lack of the officers paying attention to what’s going on in the world around them.”
The Washington Post