Commissioner Davis, FOP condemn BPD lieutenant for controversial tweets [UPDATED]

Both Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and the Fraternal Order of Police have distanced themselves from a police lieutenant and union vice president after a local activist published a blog highlighting some of the lieutenant's controversial tweets, including instances of calling protesters "unbathed parasites & THUGS" and condemning Black Lives Matter activists for their "lies."

The lieutenant, Victor Gearhart of the Southern District, then went after several of his critics, including the young activist who published the post, 17-year-old Makayla Gilliam-Price, on Twitter, claiming she is the "Radical daughter of Convicted Murderer who killed Irv&Rose Bronstein1982 and executed in 1998 he was aCOWARD [sic]."

On his own account, Davis said the comments from Gearhart, whose handle is @SDGhostRider, "do not reflect the values of @BaltimorePolice or our great City. I join @FOP3 in condemning them."

Earlier, the FOP expressed similar sentiments, tweeting that the "comments and demeanor of @SDGhostRider do not reflect the polcies, beliefs, or standards of our organization."

City Paper asked the BPD if any further action would be taken against Gearhart. T.J. Smith, the director of media relations for the department, responded, "I can unequivocally and categorically tell you that those 'tweets and comments' are in no way, shape, or form representative of the Baltimore Police Department."

Reached by City Paper, Gilliam-Price wrote that more had to be done.

"As stated in my post to assatassyllabus.org my only intention in exposing Gearhart's tweets was to illuminate the systems that are behind individuals such as himself that protect and uphold the racist mindsets that these individual 'bad cops' embody. While Davis acknowledging the situation was a nice gesture, him divorcing the BPD from Gearhart wasn't enough," she wrote. "To me, Davis' remarks and the FOP's were yet another way for them to wiggle themselves out of being held accountable. As an instituion [sic] the BPD should be called into account for the actions and words of each of its employees, that has not been done in the past and was not done in this situation either. I am not content with their responses and steps should be taken to remove him from his position."

Gearhart did not immediately return a request for comment from City Paper. In an interview with The Sun's Kevin Rector, Gearhart said he was exercising his right to free speech.

"I am not a spokesman for the FOP Lodge 3. I am not a spokesman for the police department. I've never presented myself as such. It's my private opinions," he said. 

On Twitter, Gearhart defended his attacks on Gilliam-Price by writing, "Truth is an absolute defense & that is all I deal in. I speak 4 myself only," but it would appear he has several facts about two cases conflated.

According to The Sun, John Booth-El was convicted in the 1983 double murder of Irvin and Rose Bronstein. Booth-El died on death row, reportedly from natural causes, in 2014 after many years spent in the courts fighting to get his death sentence overturned. There is no relation between Booth-El and Gilliam-Price.

However, Gilliam-Price's mother, Zelda Gilliam, has not shied away from saying that the execution of Makayla's uncle, Tyrone Gilliam, who was killed by lethal injection in 1998 for the 1988 kidnapping and murder of a 21-year-old Baltimore woman, had an impact on her daughter's activism.

"Makayla was born into struggle," she told City Paper in October. "She picked up that fighting in utero."

Makayla Gilliam-Price was still an infant when her uncle was executed.

"The story runs deep in this family," her mother told City Paper. "But Makayla has found her own voice."

Gearhart also invoked the First Amendment online when defending his comments, but as he himself tweeted on Jan. 21, this very issue is being disputed in the Supreme Court, where a New Jersey officer is arguing his free-speech rights were violated when he was demoted after being seen with a political sign for a challenger in a mayoral race.

"This is amazing politics and POLICE work do not mix," Gearhart tweeted with a link to a police site carrying an Associated Press report on the case. That stance, however, has not stopped Gearhart from going after City Councilman Nick Mosby and State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, as seen in Gilliam-Price's article.

This is not the first time Gearhart has spoken out in a way that was unflattering for BPD. In May of last year, the veteran officer went on the record with Sun reporters Justin George and Justin Fenton for a story about the department's hesitancy following the uprising and the charges filed against six officers connected with the death of Freddie Gray.

Of the people complaining about the conduct of the Baltimore Police Deparment, he told The Sun they "are going to get the police force they want, and God help them."

UPDATE: Gearhart has been reassigned from overnight patrol in the Southern to overnight building security, reports Rector.

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