Springfield police officer at center of social media controversy retires

SPRINGFIELD — A long-time city police officer who this week found himself at the center of a controversy has retired after posting a doctored Facebook photo showing a statue of George Floyd pointing a gun at a pregnant woman, according to a police spokesman.

Hector Santiago, a 33-year veteran of the department, submitted his paper work with the city and has officially ended his career with the force. His retirement was effective as of Thursday, said police spokesman Ryan Walsh.

Santiago found himself in the spotlight on Wednesday when his post was brought to the attention to City Councilor Justin Hurst. Hurst then brought it to the attention of Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, Police Commissioner Cheryl C. Clapprood and the local media.

The photo showed a monument to Floyd in Trenton, New Jersey, and it had been altered to depict Floyd pointing a gun at the stomach of a pregnant woman. The caption reads, “May as well make it accurate.”

It refers to the common internet meme that Floyd committed armed assault on a pregnant woman. Floyd had served time in prison for armed assault, but there is no documentation he ever threatened a pregnant woman.

Since the Facebook posting came to light, there have been calls for Santiago to be fired for violating the city’s social media policy. A number of city employees, including three police officers, in recent years have been dismissed for controversial posts on social media platforms.

Sarno and Clapprood each expressed anger at the post, saying it could undo everything the department has undertaken in the past year to restore public confidence following a number of well-publicized incidents of police misconduct and abuse, and a Department of Justice report that found Springfield narcotics detectives routinely violated the constitutional rights of suspects.

Sarno directed Clapprood to enact cultural sensitivity and diversity training for officers. Clapprood also said she has launched an internal investigation into the matter.

Santiago had apparently started the ball rolling for his retirement before the controversy, Walsh said. He had submitted his paperwork to begin the retirement process some weeks back.

The officer had originally planned to retired near the end of the year, but was injured on the job in a cruiser accident, Walsh said. He had been in a uniformed officer on the street, but while recovering from his injuries had been working light duty inside the records division, he said.

Walsh said the internal investigation will continue but he did not know how it will be impacted by Santiago’s retirement.

The Springfield had called for the “immediate dismissal” of Santiago. However, Hurst said he did not bring the matter to Sarno’s attention with the intent of getting Santiago fired, but to stress a need for more education. Hurst noted that previous dismissals have not prevented others from making the same mistake.

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