8 sworn police officers, 2 firefighters, 1 dispatcher, & 1 Metro teacher. That’s how many government employees took part in the public shaming of a transgender citizen of Nashville, after 3 of the police officers and 1 of the firefighters had all taken independent photos of this citizen at different times in the past few weeks, and all came together to post them on social media and engage in a very public ridicule and shaming of this citizen that had no idea anything was going on. (We have blurred the identity in the images below).
Most disturbing, is that these photos were not even from the same day. Once the first one was posted by a Metro Police Sergeant, several others came forward to post their own they had taken in previous days or weeks, without knowing the others had also taken photos of this same person. For these Metro Nashville employees, their first instinct when they saw a transgender person was to take a photo, upload it to social media, and laugh at the person and publicly shame them from their social media accounts – many of which have the Metro jobs prominently displayed, along with photos of them in uniform.
We provided MNPD with an advanced copy of this story to get their response to the incidents, and as of Thursday morning, the Office of Professional Accountability had launched an investigation into the 6 employees of the Metro Nashville Police Department involved, and interviews were already taking place at the time of publication. In regards to the photos and commentary posted by officers on social media, Don Aaron told Scoop: Nashville:
“The social media comments you have presented to us absolutely do not reflect the values of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, which, including professional support staff, has nearly 2,000 employees. This is a very serious matter”, and reminded citizens that “Our city’s diversity is one of its strengths. That principle is instilled with police officer trainees at the academy and during annual in-service training. “
Here’s what happened. Last September, Metro Nashville Police Sergeant Melvin Brown, III, was having lunch with Goodlettsville Police Officer Jason Ross Ayers, just before Noon. During lunch, a transgender person came into the restaurant to have lunch, and both officers took out their phones to take photos of this person, and post them publicly on social media. They took photos of the person coming in the restaurant, eating, leaving, and even when leaving the restroom, encouraging jokes, shaming, and snide remarks in the social media posts and comments.
MNPD Sergeant Melvin Brown, III, was the first to post the photo (above) on social media, with a heading that said:
“Freedom to express yourself has reached its limitations at lunch in 2017”
Sergeant Melvin Brown, III, then notices that the person is coming out of the bathroom, and takes another photo, posting it on social media, about 20 minutes after the initial one. He adds this commentary to the photo:
“Not sure on bathroom choice”
Not to be left out of the action and shaming, Goodlettsville Police Officer Jason Ross Ayers then posted a photo of the person leaving restaurant, also uploading it to social media:
MNPD Officer Craig Oakley immediately recognized the citizen, and responded: “Glad to see he isn’t in midtown anymore”, with emoticons of laughing/crying faces.
Metro Nashville Fireman Joseph Knipfer says “this has Madison written all over it”, to which MNPS Inglewood Elementary teacher Frances ‘Franz’ Dunaway agrees, saying “Exactly what I was thinking!”, and later one she asks in disbelief, “Is this for real!?!” as if she’s never encountered a transgender person in daily life. Neither expressed any issue with the shaming of a citizen, but continued to participate in it.
MNPD Sergeant Kim Forsyth then posts “He sure has a purdy mouf!”
MNPD Officer Andy Esqueda jokingly notes “I’ve got the same dress”
Officers Brown & Ayers were not the only person who had recently taken a photo of this person. Metro Nashville Police Officer Brandon Wood, who is assigned to the Madison precinct, had also recently taken a photo of this person, and shared it online, also, stating “This dude is everywhere!”, getting laugh reactions from many to his post.
Sgt. Brown later remarks “For you soft folks! I’m not making fun… just making you aware!” – though he doesn’t say what he’s making anyone “aware” of.
Later that evening, Nashville Fire Department Firemen joined in on the online shaming and photo sharing. Fireman Michael Wayne Wilson, Jr., posted a photo that he, too, had taken of the same person in a dress, with the commentary “Looks like he changed his hair…lol”.
MNPD Dispatcher Rick Beasley, who retired just a week after the comments, said “If I had been born a woman I would’ve looked better than that walking freak show. Ugh!”
Another MNPD Officer, David Snowden, didn’t say anything about a Sergeant posting a citizen’s photo on social media to shame them, instead he joked, replying that “Melvin, but you’re forgetting one thing…..I do this on my RDO’s!” (RDO = regular days off).
Tim Preston, a Patrol Sergeant with the Goodlettsville Police Department comments “Let’s not encourage shim to wear yoga pants”
It wasn’t lost on Chris Sanders, Executive Director of Tennessee Equality Project, that today’s news comes on National Coming Out Day. He told Scoop: Nashville this morning:
“On National Coming Out Day it is scary to see that people who are charged with serving the whole community would single out some of the members who face the most discrimination. This erodes the public trust in those who engaged in this ridicule. The departments whose employees are represented have work to do to regain it and build a work culture refocused on serving without bias.”
Nashville Fire Department Director Chief William Swann was shown the photos and comments on Thursday morning, and his immediate response was:
“First and foremost the Nashville Fire Department is dedicated to serving all the people on Davidson County. We do this no matter who they are no matter their gender identity, sexual orientation, race, age, ethnicity or anything else. When I was made aware of these postings I directed my command staff to look into your allegations. Once we complete that process we will act accordingly.”
At the end of the day, over 250 people had engaged with the post, via comments, or reactions – a vast number of them metro city employees. There may have been more comments and remarks by more sworn officers, but these were the ones that went by their actual name on social media, and were easily verified via Nashville’s open data portal, and having their job or photo listed in on their social media profile. Diversity Training is already a required course for all Metro Nashville employees.
Below is a list of the employees identified, 9 of which are active Metro Nashville employees, 1 retired, and 2 are employees of the Goodlettsville Police Department, which didn’t respond to any requests for comment.