EVERETT — An Everett police sergeant won’t face discipline after activists connected him to a controversial Twitter account that appeared to show bias against protesters.
During an internal investigation conducted by the city’s human resources department, Sgt. James Collier, who is also union president of the Everett Police Officers Association, freely acknowledged he made the Twitter handle @JTC2014 seven years ago but claimed he hadn’t touched it since 2016.
Instead, his son had been using the account, he told human resources managers.
According to documents summarizing the investigation provided by the city, Collier’s teenage son told investigators he wrote several of the tweets that activists pointed out as problematic and said he used @JTC2014 as a “burner” account. Activists are disputing that narrative.
The Twitter account engaged with posts:
■ Promoting a self-defense theory for Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who has been charged with two counts of intentional homicide for shooting protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
■ Depicting protesters getting hit by a car, remarking, “This guy IS A BEAST!!!”
■ Justifying the killing of Rayshard Brooks, who was shot by Atlanta police.
■ And supporting the notion that Black-on-Black crime was the true threat to Black people, not police.
“As soon as I was made aware of these social media posts, we asked our HR team to investigate,” Mayor Cassie Franklin said in a statement. “The team conducted a thorough review with support from outside legal counsel. The investigators concluded that no city policies had been violated. This has, however, revealed areas of weakness in the city’s social media policies, which we are addressing immediately so that the online activity of our public servants reflects the professionalism we expect in their daily work.”
In lieu of discipline, it was recommended that Collier participate in coaching and counseling on securing his personal accounts.
Collier is a 19-year veteran of the police department. He did not respond to a Herald reporter’s request for an interview.
The connection between Collier and the Twitter account was first brought to light last month by local activists, who noticed the account’s prolific tweeting on local happenings and police issues — and took umbrage with the views being expressed. The account had the same initials as Collier, and in a couple instances the user interacted with apparent family members and customer service representatives using either his first or last name.
On Nov. 19, Natalia Tune filed a complaint with the city, calling the tweets “inflammatory, violent and racist,” initiating the internal review. Tune said they wanted to see Collier fired from his position, or at least disciplined. Tune, 37, is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Everett.
The city noted the tweets were politically conservative and that several of the account’s engagements “could be considered insensitive” to some people.
Tune had pointed to one particular exchange as proof of bias against protesters. The account @JTC2014 responded to a tweet from The Daily Herald’s account, linking to a story about a Black Lives Matter rally in Everett that ended with a woman driving into protesters who were blocking traffic. Video footage showed two protesters being carried north on Broadway on the hood of an SUV. Two protesters were arrested. The driver was not.
@JTC2014 concluded that the Black Lives Matter protesters broke the law and “harassed & terrorized an innocent motorist.” Responding, activist Ben Karpelman argued the driver should have been the one taken into custody.
Karpelman wrote, “ok so the next time I see a person in the road, I’ll strike them with my car and then smugly remind as they’re struggling to breathe on the ground that the streets are for cars then drive away.”
“Correct just before they go to jail though …” responded @JTC2014.
According to documents, Collier disagreed with Tune’s characterization of the tweets, and his son reportedly confirmed he was the one who took part in the exchange.
“He believes that he was the sole operator of the account during this timeframe,” investigators wrote of Collier’s son. “He indicated that he used the JTC2014 account as a ‘burner’ account, using it to tweet on social issues, and that the content was ‘nothing too deep.’”
Both @JTC2014 and the Everett Police Officers Association account, which Collier started in 2016, have been deleted, creating an extra hurdle for those in charge of investigating the complaint. They had to rely on screenshots provided by Tune — representing a narrow sample of the account’s most controversial activity — and what little evidence they could scrape from elsewhere on the internet.
A Herald reporter was able to review some of @JTC2014’s account activity before it was shut down and confirmed the existence of several tweets activists had shared.
In a Dec. 17 letter to police Chief Dan Templeman, human resources Director Kandy Bartlett called it “unsettling that speech indicating intolerance was attributed to a City employee,” but wrote that she was not recommending any disciplinary action, for a number of reasons.
For one, the city couldn’t disprove that the tweets were written by Collier’s son. And even if they were written by Collier, the Twitter account’s user gave few hints about his identity, profession or employer, Bartlett wrote. She referenced balancing First Amendment rights with the city’s limited guidance on how officers should behave off the clock, and the complete lack of a policy over what they can or can’t share on social media.
The rules that were in place were more general in nature. Citywide, employees are expected to act in a way that doesn’t betray any conflict of interest between the public trust and their private interest. In a section titled “Unbecoming Conduct,” the Everett Police Department dictates that officers “not engage in conduct which may bring discredit upon the Department or the City of Everett, or which would cause a lessening of public confidence in the ability of the Department to perform its functions.”
“Nevertheless, the City expects its employees to stay out of the toxic culture that thrives online today and will be providing clear guidance to (Collier) and all employees of the department about the importance of maintaining professionalism online just as they do when interacting with the public off line,” Bartlett wrote.
Local activists question the claim that Collier’s son was behind the tweets.
Screenshots shared with a Herald reporter show the account’s user describing in August how he was an Alberta guy, “born and raised.” Collier and his wife bought their house in Marysville in 2000, according to property records, making it unlikely their teenage son would be an “Alberta guy.” An obituary indicates Collier has family in Alberta.
In other tweets, @JTC2014 appears preoccupied with things that could be surprising for a teenager: explaining why his family has canceled their subscription to The Daily Herald, complaining about a company’s customer service following the purchase of a new travel trailer and signing up for a membership with the NRA.
“It’s clear that … James’ account was not being run by his son,” Tune wrote in an email. “There’s no way his son is leaving bad reviews on RV’s that he’s clearly not purchasing at that age. Besides the fact that he wasn’t born in Alberta.”
Tune also expressed frustration that their name was left unredacted in the investigative documents provided to The Herald, while Collier’s and his son’s names were blacked out.
“These are public documents,” they wrote, “which intimates that my safety and security are not a priority. Protecting the identities of an EPD employee accused of misconduct is more important than protecting the identity of the complainant.”
Templeman said in a statement he was pleased to learn the tweets weren’t written by Collier, but that as a result of the investigation the police department has prioritized implementing a new social media policy. The police department was developing the policy “well before this matter arose,” wrote city spokesperson Kimberley Cline. However, she noted the city’s investigation into the Twitter account has sped up the process, and that the new rules will be rolled out this week.
According to Cline, the new policy will establish expectations for employees on what is and is not appropriate to post on social media, “while at the same time ensuring the City does not improperly restrict an employee’s First Amendment protected speech rights.” Among other subjects, it will prohibit “speech which expresses bias, marginalizes, or disparages a particular race, creed, color, national origin, age, ethnic background, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.”
A similar citywide policy is also in the works, Cline said.
“This experience has also served as a good reminder to all our employees to maintain control and security over personal social media accounts,” Templeman said. “It has also underscored that how we present ourselves and our opinions on-line can have an impact on not only our personal reputations, but more importantly, on the degree of trust that our public has in us to fairly and impartially carry out our duties as police officers and serve our community every day with honor, professionalism and integrity.”