CONCORD, N.H. – The Hillsborough Superior Court yesterday issued a decision ordering that the public has a right to the names of two Manchester Police Department supervisors who were part of a group of officers that received from a fellow officer a text message sharing a racist meme picturing George Floyd.
In March 2021, the Manchester Police Department (MPD) conducted an investigation into Officer Christian Horn’s sustained misconduct where he, while on duty in February 2021, texted other officers a meme that made a “joke” out of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. The report ultimately produced from the investigation contained redacted information about two supervisors who saw the racist meme and did not report it. On October 5, 2022, Black Lives Matter Manchester and the ACLU of New Hampshire filed suit seeking unredacted information.
Ronelle Tshiela, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Manchester, said, “This decision is a win for transparency. As the court mentioned, police officers have voluntarily submitted to greater public scrutiny due to the nature of the job. When racism is both prevalent and persistent in our local police force, and no one says a word, members of our community deserve to know that their leaders chose inaction and therefore complicity.”
In its decision, the court wrote, “Whether the supervisors’ inaction in response to Detective Horn’s text constitutes acceptance or tacit support of racist or ‘grossly inappropriate and racially insensitive’ behavior, or is emblematic of systemic racism within the Manchester Police Department, is a matter fit for public discourse.”
As the Court and lawsuit explain, police officers have little privacy interest in records implicating the performance of their official duties—in this case, the apparent failure, whether justified or not, to report racist behavior.
“The public deserves to know who these supervisors are in a concerning case of racism where a group of police officers who were aware of this meme did nothing,” said Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. “Police officers should not be and are not able to remain anonymous in records implicating their performance of their official duties–in this instance, the apparent failure to report racist behavior. We are glad the court agrees: this information is in the interest of public disclosure.”
As the MPD’s March 2021 report notes, one of the Manchester officers who received the text—and who was offended by its dissemination—expressed concern that, if he simply reported this issue up the chain of command, then it would not be taken seriously. As the Department’s report states, the person who complained about the racist text “went outside his chain-of-command to report the incident, because he felt the lack of response from [a supervisor] implied that he would get no support from his own chain-of-command.” In other words, as the report notes, the complaining officer “was not only offended by the meme itself, but by the apparent lack of outrage and condemnation by the other recipients in the text thread.”