The Palmer City Council’s June 9 meeting included more than two hours of public testimony, mostly in support of Police Chief Dwayne Shelton who was placed on administrative leave with pay last month following the discovery of certain social media comments he posted in 2018.
Widely circulated last month, Shelton’s Facebook comments called the Black Lives Matter movement “a hate group plain and simple.” He added, however, “I choose to respect all people of every race and I support Law Enforcement (Please do not interpret that I condone misconduct or criminal activity by Law Enforcement Officers, I do not!!!).” Shelton also stated that he does not believe in more than two genders.
Media coverage of Shelton’s comments came just before the June 6 Black Lives Matter protest, where more than 1,000 people marched through downtown Palmer. The rally was overwhelmingly peaceful despite initial fears that it might turn violent as has happened in certain cities across the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis.
“Chief Shelton, he is the epitome of a solid, good public servant and I am grateful for that kind of person.”
The council meeting began with in-person testimony that was overwhelmingly in favor of Shelton and his First Amendment Rights. Many others praised his moral character and service to the community.
“I’m here to talk straight for a couple of minutes about the importance of having solid good public citizens in all capacities,” said Palmer resident David Miller. “I wanted to talk specifically about how important it is to protect and stand up for those who epitomize good public servants. I can tell you right now that in my interaction with Chief Shelton, he is the epitome of a solid, good public servant and I am grateful for that kind of person.”
Luke Howard, who organized a group of local volunteers to help ensure the Palmer protest came off peacefully, said he stood “100% behind Chief Shelton’s right to the First Amendment.”
Several in-person and written testimonies were critical of the police chief’s Facebook posts, calling them insensitive and offensive and asking for Shelton’s removal from the Palmer Police Department.
A statement last week from the city said it “rejects the ideas contained in the past inappropriate social media postings by Palmer Police Chief Shelton,” and “respects the diversity of our society and promotes the principles of tolerance and equality embedded in the Constitutional underpinnings of our Nation.”
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The city manager is now reviewing diversity training practices for the police department with goal of enhancing them.
Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries said a decision about Shelton’s status with the police department will be made by the city manager.
“I would anticipate that at some time within the future, the city manager will make the final decision,” she said. “That decision then will be relayed to the city council and then it will be up to the city council if they want to address that situation, depending on which decision the city manager makes.”
The council also voted to postpone debate and action on an agenda item dealing with updating the city’s code of ethics. The topic will be taken up at the next meeting on June 23.