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Humboldt State University has retained an independent police oversight firm to review allegations against University Police Chief Donn Peterson — allegations made by his own officers, who recently cast a vote of no confidence against him.
The officers have accused Peterson of frequent absenteeism, manipulation of crime stat reports, labor law violations and creating a hostile work environment, including the use of racial slurs directed at minority officers. One of the latter allegations was that while talking to a black UPD officer, Peterson quoted a bible verse that talks about slaves being beholden to their masters.
Peterson has not responded to the Outpost‘s requests for comment, but in an interview with the North Coast Journal published last month he denied many of the allegations, including the use of racial slurs.
He later told the Times-Standard that he may have violated labor laws by posting an angry response to a poor leadership review on a department bulletin board, but he said he’d been reacting to a “culture of toxic masculinity” within the department, saying officers had displayed homophobia and misogyny.
Earlier this week, Billy Kijsriopas, a UPD officer and director of Humboldt’s branch of the Statewide University Police Association (SUPA), sent the Outpost a response to Peterson’s statements written by fellow UPD officer Sgt. John Packer.
“Officer John Packer feels compelled to share his firsthand experiences of Chief Peterson’s racial discrimination and to shed light into the matter,” Kijsriopas said in his email.
Packer’s statement, which you can read in full below, includes his recollection of Peterson’s alleged Biblical comment along with other incidents where he was “targeted by racist and bigoted intolerance related to my race and beliefs.”
We again reached out to Peterson for a response, leaving a voicemail on his cell phone. Instead, the university’s news and information director, Aileen Yoo, forwarded us the following statement from Doug Dawes, HSU’s vice president for administration and finance:
As communicated to the campus community in October, the University has retained the OIR Group (Office of Independent Review) to review the allegations and complaints against Chief Peterson.
The OIR is an independent and respected law enforcement assessment firm. The University has been working with the OIR by providing information the firm needs to conduct a thorough and rigorous investigation. Out of respect for the process, which could take several months, I have asked Chief Peterson not to comment further until the investigation has concluded.
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Below is the statement from UPD Sgt. John Packer:
My name is John Packer and I have served under seven Chiefs during my 26 years as a police officer in this community and currently serve as a sergeant at the University Police Department (UPD). I am the senior police officer in the department and have served under Chief Donn Peterson for approximately five years. I am the only American of African descent serving at University Police Department under Chief Peterson.
I am compelled to share my experiences after reading Chief Peterson’s statements in the October 11, 2019 online issue of the North Coast Journal and the October 14, 2019 online issue of the Times Standard. Chief Peterson claimed that “Anyone who knows me knows I don’t talk politics or religion in a professional setting or during work.”
Chief Peterson’s claim is not true. Chief Peterson claimed that “The racist remarks never happened in the way the officers say.” Chief Peterson’s claim is not true.
I firmly believe that the color of one’s skin, as with all immutable characteristics, is not a predictor of behavior or intelligence or ability, etc. While I have experienced incidents of racism and bigotry during my life, it has been my practice to disregard the ignorance expressed by the person and not carry an angry sentiment with me. I do however clearly remember the times when I have been targeted by racist and bigoted intolerance related to my race and beliefs.
I clearly remember being at a scheduled evaluation meeting with Chief Peterson and Lt Hansen. During that meeting in the Chief’s office, Chief Peterson was extremely upset to the point of using profanity directed at me. The Chief’s frustration and anger stemmed from his opinion that I did not respect Lt Hansen, that I created division at the Department and that I fail as a leader because I am not a “follower.” At the end of the meeting, Lt Hansen stated to me, “We’re not friends and we never will be, admit it.” I agreed with her statement. Chief Peterson followed with, “John you know you’re obligated to work as a slave unto his master.”
At the beginning of my next shift Chief Peterson approached me in the hallway outside the dispatch center and stated, in reference to the slavery comment he made in our meeting, “John I can say that because we both read the Bible.” I was speechless and walked away without responding to the Chief.
Over time Chief Peterson has made additional derogatory statements to me such as, “John you’re like dealing with the North verses the South,” and he excuses himself with follow up statements such as, “I’m just trying to find analogies that work with you.”
Chief Peterson has become more emboldened over the past four years, and moved from making private remarks in our meetings, to demonstrating obvious displays of racism and contempt towards me in whatever audience is available. What once only occurred behind closed doors, has now progressed to belittling statements in department meetings, and to outright derogatory statements at sergeant’s meetings.
Any claim that Chief Peterson’s analogies, historical quotes, nuances or his intent were misinterpreted by me or other officers is insulting and does [not] excuse the impact or justify Chief Peterson’s actions.