'Profane, abusive and insulting:' Veteran Alberta police officer fired over memes

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A police chief in southern Alberta says the firing of a veteran officer for misconduct was necessary to provide a safe and respectful workplace.

Lethbridge police announced Monday the conclusion of a disciplinary matter that involved five officers for their roles in "the creation and distribution of profane, abusive and insulting memes."

Following the completion of an investigation in December 2020 by an outside agency, the officers — one sergeant and four constables — were charged with misconduct under the Alberta Police Act and Police Service Regulation and a disciplinary hearing was ordered.

The sergeant, who previously pleaded guilty to five counts of misconduct and was acquitted of a sixth, was dismissed from the police force. Previously, two constables resigned and two others were demoted for one year.

The sanctions are a result of inappropriate images, reportedly including pictures of senior staff pasted onto the bodies of characters from the animated “Toy Story” movies, that circulated in a private chat group in 2018.

"We do not condone and will not tolerate any conduct that is offensive, intimidating, harassing or harmful to others and we have procedures in place to investigate and take corrective action to address founded incidents," said Lethbridge police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh in a written statement.

"The Lethbridge Police Service is disheartened by the actions of these five officers and the dishonour, embarrassment and erosion of the public’s trust they caused, as well as the harm to our own employees and others who were among those targeted in the memes."

The service has faced numerous controversies in recent years.

In 2020, two officers were temporarily demoted after a review determined NDP provincial legislature member Shannon Phillips, while environment minister in 2017, was surveilled and photographed at a diner.

The officers involved were apparently concerned about changes Phillips was making regarding rules for off-highway vehicles in nearby wilderness areas.

Separately, five officers and one civilian were investigated on allegations of conducting improper database searches on Phillips while she was in cabinet.

The force was also criticized in May 2020 for the violent takedown of a citizen wearing a “Star Wars” storm trooper costume and brandishing a toy laser blaster. An independent review said the officers had not acted inappropriately.

The service provided an action plan to Alberta's justice minister after he ordered it to clean up its act or risk being dissolved, demanding it address everything from recruiting to oversight to the department’s internal culture.

"LPS also engaged in a process to develop our new mission, vision and values. This process was led from the ground up, with the support and oversight of the Lethbridge Police Commission, to empower all of our employees to take ownership, define the principles that guide our work and be the change," said Mehdizadeh.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2022.

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary

The Canadian Press