University police officer fired over ‘KKK member’ reference in Twitter bio

Southeast

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A university police officer in Florida whose Twitter bio described herself as a “KKK member” has been fired, officials said.

Former University of South Florida officer Presley Garcia, 26, said her friend added the description in 2015 and she had not used the account for years. She said she is not a racist and condemns racism and the KKK.

The investigation into Garcia began in July after a local reporter contacted the USF police department with screenshots of the Twitter account “@presleyyyg,” which read “KKK member.” The account has since been deleted.

Garcia, who was hired in 2018, told the Tampa Bay Times she felt let down by the agency after her firing last week.

“There’s all the talk of ‘Back the Blue,’ but not one person had my back,” she said.

In September 2018, the University of South Florida Police Department posted these photos to its Facebook page which show Presley Garcia being sworn in as an officer.

In his letter recommending her firing, USF Police Chief Chris Daniel said Garcia’s actions could bring harm to other officers.

“This concern is of particular importance given the activities occurring on a local and national level. Since the incident involving George Floyd, dissident members of the community have targeted law enforcement officers, their departments, their families and their home,” Daniel wrote. A Black man, Floyd died in May after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against the his neck for nearly eight minutes as he pleaded for air.

The chief said USF officers have experienced having their doors kicked, vehicles photographed in their driveways and been followed to work while being “antagonized on the roadway” in recent months.

Garcia admitted the Twitter account was hers, but told investigators a friend added the phrase to her bio in 2015, the newspaper reported. She said she was young and didn’t know what it meant.

She said she had deleted the app on her phone and thought the account was also deleted.

The investigation found she was active on Twitter between November 2015 and January 2016, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“The agency failed me,” Garcia said. “It’s very hurtful that something from a long time ago that I didn’t even do has completely destroyed my career. … There’s no way I’d ever be a part of that group. I wasn’t raised that way.”

During a pre-employment background interview Garcia told officials she didn’t have a Twitter account because she thought it had been deleted, Tampa Bay Times reported.

The investigation found no tie to the KKK.

In his letter, the chief said the agency tries to strike a balance between allowing officers freedom in their private lives and ensuring appropriate off-duty conduct.

He said that since the issue was raised, the story has been reported by other news organizations, “exacerbating the impact of her actions.” He added the perception could be harmful to the department.

Garcia has 30 days to file a grievance with the university or the union that represents officers. She told the newspaper she declined.

“I feel like I go back there, I won’t be treated well,” she said. “I have a life to live and a career to move forward somehow too.”

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