Is a three-day unpaid suspension appropriate discipline for calling a co-worker a racial slur?
A white sergeant with the Hamilton County (Tenn.) Sheriff’s Office used a racial slur twice while talking to a black deputy back in November, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.
Sgt. George Jackson was suspended for three days without pay for his conduct and was also required to undergo on-the-job counseling for his remarks, which violated the department’s code of conduct.
According to the report, on Nov. 14, Jackson was walking in the Hamilton County Jail with Deputy Jessica White. The pair have worked together for several years, the report notes.
That morning, White told Jackson that she’d seen him driving to work and was concerned because he was swerving on the road. White reportedly asked Jackson if he kept full insurance on his car.
Jackson responded to her comment by saying that he did, “just in case a nigger” like her hit his car and had no insurance. The sergeant later said that he meant the comment as a joke and did not intend to offend White. White immediately wanted to file a grievance against Jackson, and went to the jail’s central control room to inquire about the procedure.
The Times Free Press notes that just as she started to describe what occurred to the four men in the control room, Jackson walked in, so she asked him to share what he had said. Jackson repeated his comment, including the slur, records show.
Video of the incident reportedly shows the people in the room laughing, an internal-affairs investigation noted. Two of the men said that they thought White genuinely found Jackson’s comment funny, while the other two said that she appeared offended and only laughed nervously.
All of the men reportedly acknowledged that co-workers in the jail banter with one another and sometimes use inappropriate words during their exchanges, although the use of a racial slur is unusual, according to the report.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said that a three-day suspension and counseling were an adequate form of discipline after listening to several officers—black and white—who testified that Jackson and White’s working relationship was often based on back-and-forth insults.
“They’d been partnering up for a long time and had pushed the limits—both of them—in terms of how they respected each other,” Hammond said. “He carried it to a point where she got offended, so we had to discipline him. … It’s not appropriate and I won’t allow it to go on. That’s why I took the steps I did, but it did not raise to the level where I would do anything more severe on the first time.”
In a statement to the news site, Jackson said that he considers White not only a co-worker but also a friend, and apologized for his comments.
“We see one another on a regular basis and are cordial,” he said. “She remains someone that I respect and would do anything in my ability to assist. Her and her family remain in our family’s prayers, as she has said the same to me. I hope in time we can once again have the professional friendship we once shared.”