UPDATE: Charleston’s dismissal was unrelated to his recent Facebook posts. Scroll down to read a document the Polk County Sheriff’s Office provided on June 26, citing incidents of “insubordination,” “neglect of duty and disharmony,” and a Human Resources department report detailing “gender bias in the workplace.”
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office fired Deputy Sheriff Dan Charleston on June 23, Linh Ta reported for the Des Moines Register. Officials declined to state the reason for his termination, citing the possibility of an appeal or lawsuit.
Charleston had been under investigation over a pair of personal Facebook posts disparaging Islam. I’ve enclosed a screen shot of one post below. Iowa Informer has an image of the second, which Charleston apparently deleted.
In a statement confirming the investigation earlier this month, public information officer Rich Blaylock said the sheriff’s office “has received two complaints regarding the social media postings by one of our employees. We, as a law enforcement agency proudly serving a community of all faiths and backgrounds, work hard to be seen as fair and impartial.”
As a Polk County resident, I would feel safer knowing Charleston no longer carries a badge or a gun. Everyone is entitled to hold extremist views and bigoted opinions, but law enforcement officers need to be able to treat people fairly, regardless of their cultural or religious beliefs. I question whether Charleston can do that, based on his contention that “the threat of Islam” is “real,” “serious,” and “dangerous,” and that policy-makers need “to do what is right for our nation, and not what is politically correct.”
On the other hand, firing someone solely over the content of speech expressed on Facebook raises valid concerns and legal questions. I did not find any social media policy in Polk County’s employee handbook or on its list of internal policies. The sheriff’s office may have separate rules I am not aware of, however.
Last year, the Iowa Department of Public Safety fired a criminalist who had posted racist opinions on Facebook. Her postings violated a department policy against employees expressing themselves on social media in a way that “affects his or her credibility as a witness for the state.” The Department of Public Safety’s conduct code also prohibits acts “that reflect unfavorably on the department.”
Charleston successfully appealed a previous dismissal through the Polk County Civil Service Commission in 2004. He ran for sheriff as a Republican in 2012 and 2016, opposing traffic cameras and promoting concepts of the so-called “constitutional sheriff” movement. Democratic Sheriff Bill McCarthy won both elections. Charleston has since sued McCarthy three times: in April 2014, October 2015, and February of this year. He alleges he has been subject to political retribution after challenging his boss, and believes the sheriff’s office should have investigated how a report on his workplace conduct reached Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu.
At this writing, Charleston has not commented on his firing on his public Facebook or Twitter accounts. CORRECTION: Charleston did announce on Facebook that he was fired, but took the post down. Mario Rossi of Channel 5 news preserved the image, in which Charleston seemed to link his dismissal to his two campaigns for sheriff and confirmed that his two federal lawsuits are ongoing.
UPDATE: Since most personnel records are exempt from Iowa’s open records law, it will be difficult for journalists to confirm the grounds on which Charleston was fired. But if he appeals this dismissal, court records will eventually reveal a fuller picture.
A reader noted that even as Charleston loses his badge, he presumably will continue to carry guns. Point taken. I meant that he will no longer be enforcing the law with a county-issued gun.
JUNE 26 UPDATE: The Polk County Sheriff’s Office provided Sheriff Bill McCarthy’s June 23 letter to Charleston, explaining the reasons for the dismissal. The six-page letter does not mention this month’s controversial Facebook posts. Rather, McCarthy noted incidents of “insubordination,” “neglect of duty and disharmony,” and a Human Resources department report detailing “gender bias in the workplace.”
It is clear that you are unwilling or unable [to] correct your inappropriate behavior and actions. Instead, you have demonstrated a willful failure to properly conduct yourself as a member of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. […]
Michael Campbell’s Human Resources Department Report of Findings dated 6/14/2016 makes clear that your inability to treat your fellow employees with respect is serious and concerning, as well as your demeanor in the workplace and the resulting environment described by Mr. Campbell.
Read the whole termination letter: