A Georgia sheriff’s deputy in middle Georgia has been “suspended without pay pending termination” after allegedly calling murder victim Ahmaud Arbery a “criminal” on social media. In addition to labeling the slain jogger as a criminal, he is accused of smugly writing, “he still got the death penalty.”
Houston County Deputy Paul Urhahn commented on the Macon outlet’s Facebook post about the recent sentencing of Arbery’s killers, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan. The deputy replied, “That criminal arbery still got the death penalty though.”
On Friday, Jan. 7, the three men were handed down life sentences for their roles in the 25-year-old’s death. The McMichaels both received life sentences with no possibility of parole, plus an additional 20 years. Bryan, a McMichaels neighbor, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 30 years.
Judge Timothy Walmsley stated at sentencing, “Ahmaud Arbery was then hunted down and shot, and he was killed because individuals here in this courtroom took the law into their own hands.”
Despite deleting the comment, screenshots have been shared across social media, landing in the Houston County Sheriff’s Office. Over the weekend, the sheriff’s office launched an investigation, and on the morning of Monday, Jan. 10, decided to suspend Urhahn without pay and pending termination.
Sheriff Cullen Talton wrote a letter detailing how the deputy violated several of the department’s policies, all relating to code of conduct:
Page 5 (4A) – An officer must at all times, on and off duty, conduct him/herself in a manner which does not bring discredit to the department or county.
Page 5 (4B) – Conduct unbecoming of an officer shall include that conduct
(2) – Which has a tendency to destroy public respect for employees and confidence in the department.
The blowback from the comment did not stop with the department. Activist Eli Porter, a member of the Poor And Minority Justice Association told WGXA, “That deputy represents that entire department, and for him to say something like that — I’m just … it got under my skin.”
Porter believed that the sheriff’s immediate response communicated a powerful message to the community, showing everyone that “the sheriff’s office does not stand with what Paul said.”
Few people have expressed solidarity with the disgraced officer.
Kimberly Ochelli wrote, “Exactly the type of person we do not need to be a Peace Officer not only in our beautiful city, but anywhere. He deserved exactly what he earned.”
“He deserves to lose his job,” Laurie Hardeman posted in the comment section. “When a racist shows his true colors they need to learn just how ignorant they act. And it reflects on how he or she was brought up and how ignorant their family is also.”
But some believed that his freedom of speech had been violated.
“The man has a right to his opinion, why should some people be denied their right to express themselves because they work in certain areas,” wrote Will Maddox.
Lawana Henrich asked, “I do not know what he said but what happened to freedom of speech?”
Urhahn has an opportunity to appeal this decision over the next 10 days. If he does not, his termination will be effective on Jan. 20.
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