The Grant County sheriff is considering disciplinary action of a nearly 20-year employee who posted racially offensive Facebook posts that prompted angry phone calls and emails to the department.
The posts by employee Debra Wallen appeared on Facebook amid a nationwide movement over racial injustice and police brutality.
“Can I still separate my laundry into ‘white and colored’ loads, or is that illegal now too?” one post read, according to screen shots of Wallen’s profilethat were shared on a website and on YouTube.
Another meme said Quaker Oats changed its name to Shaquille Oatmeal, displaying an illustrated face of former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal superimposed over the iconic Quaker trademark.
Sheriff Reggie Nevels said the posts showed poor judgment from Wallen, who works as an evidence technician for the department’s narcotics team. He noted that the incident is a personnel matter that he will handle accordingly.
Although some people have sent emails and phone calls to Nevels calling for her termination, Nevels said he will not do so and believes Wallen is not racist.
“She’s really hurting just like I am to be honest with you,” said Nevels, who is African-American. “Because I’m disappointed in it, like I told her, especially with everything going on in today’s world. It was just poor judgment.”
IndyStar was unable to find a working phone number for Wallen for comment, and her Facebook page appears to have been deleted.
Grant County does not tolerate employee conduct that is “offensive, dangerous or discredits Grant County as an employer,” according to a 2011 personnel policy handbook on the county’s website. The policy’s definition of a hostile work environment includes the printed or electronic display of racial comments, jokes or anything that may be construed as showing disrespect for others.
Employees found to have created a hostile work environment “will be severely disciplined, up to and including termination of employment,” the handbook says.
Nevels said the department has its own policy that lists three various levels of offense. The two higher offense levels could include suspension for one day or multiple days.
“She definitely hasn’t been a problem employee,” Nevels said, noting that she has never been written up. “It comes down to a verbal reprimand or it could be a written reprimand or it could be a day off.”
Grant County has a tumultuous history with racism. In 1930, a mob in Marion lynched two black teenagers, Abraham Smith and Tom Shipp, accused of killing a white man and raping his girlfriend.
In 2015, Marion’s assistant fire chief Rick Backs was demoted after he was accused of tossing a rope shaped into a noose at Black firefighter Mikel Neal.
The Sheriff’s Office previously sent out an email to employees urging them to be mindful of what they post on social media and how they speak to the public amid the national protests against police, Nevels said.
“It’s just a poor judgment on her end. There’s going to be consequences. … That’s a lesson learned for her,” he said. “She has taken it very hard, which she should.”