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City of Palmer places police chief on leave over inflammatory social media posts

Update 6:30 a.m. Wednesday:

Palmer police Chief Dwayne Shelton has been placed on administrative leave by city officials, according to a statement posted Tuesday evening.

The statement reads: “The City of Palmer (City) rejects the ideas contained in the past inappropriate social media postings by Palmer Police Chief Shelton who is currently on administrative leave with pay. Instead the City recognizes and respects the diversity of our society and promotes the principles of tolerance and equality embedded in the Constitutional underpinnings of our Nation. In furtherance of these principles the City will review the Palmer Police Departments (PPD) diversity training practices with the objective of robustly promoting and supplementing this training for the entire police department.”

Original story:

PALMER — Dwayne Shelton became Palmer’s police chief in December, but it’s the Facebook posts he wrote the year before that are suddenly drawing attention.

Palmer Police Chief Dwayne Shelton (City of Palmer photo)

Shelton called the Black Lives Matter movement “a hate group plain and simple” in a 2018 post. That same year, another of his posts drew attention to a video apparently asserting that high levels of false reporting are common among sexual assault victims.

The comments attracted public criticism this week amid the national protests and violent uprisings around the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee into the 46-year-old black man’s neck for more than eight minutes. Hundreds protested without incident in Anchorage on Sunday. Organizers are planning a “Peaceful protest for Black Lives Matter” in Palmer on Saturday.

Someone apparently scrolled through Shelton’s Facebook feed this week in light of the national conversation about police brutality.

Palmer officials say they started getting messages from the public Monday evening.

Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries said Tuesday she’s asked the city attorney and human resources director to look into the situation.

City employees like Shelton fall under a code of ethics but the city also needs to balance the right to free speech, DeVries said.

“I’m a praying woman,” she said. “So I sent out some prayer requests for people just to be praying. I know people have been praying for our nation. Just be praying for the city of Palmer, that the right decisions are made and that we don’t violate anybody’s freedom of expression.”

Shelton, reached around noon Tuesday, said the city was expected to release a statement later in the day. He had yet to take down the controversial posts.

“I’m not making any comments or making any statements regarding it until we get direction from the attorney,” he said.

Palmer is known as a relatively quiet town of about 7,000 originally founded in the 1930s as a New Deal farm colony. It’s not as diverse as Anchorage, the state’s largest city to the south: About three-quarters of Palmer residents are white, and 2.6 percent identify as black or African-American, according to U.S. Census data.

Shelton was born in Wyoming but grew up in Glennallen before becoming a welder. He started out as an officer with the Palmer Police Department in 1999 and worked on an undercover drug unit before his promotion to sergeant in 2012 and commander in 2015 under former Chief Lance Ketterling, who retired last year. Shelton has an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice from Wayland Baptist University.

Shelton’s daughter drew local attention in 2018 when she wore a cap decorated with a Confederate flag at Palmer High School’s graduation ceremony. School officials had given her an undecorated cap to wear instead because the flag “is symbolic for certain hate groups,” according to a report in The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. She wore her flag-adorned cap anyway.

Along with the posts getting flagged by critics this week, Shelton’s Facebook feed includes recipes, baseball, praise for President Donald Trump, and earthquake updates.

The police chief’s comments about Black Lives Matter came in a September 2018 post about Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who kneeled to protest police brutality against unarmed black citizens. In the same post, Shelton also said that "White privilege is a rubbish notion that is used to excuse the lack of hard work and motivation on certain members of society. Life is not fair it never will be, it is life. Some people from every race have certain things easier than others and some people of every race have things that are more difficult.”

His comments about false rape reporting came in October 2018, with a link to what was apparently a video that was no longer available.

“This is worth the time to watch,” Shelton writes. “Given my 20+ years experience in law enforcement the 8-40% false report claims seems way more accurate particularly the upper end of it.”

Someone else suggests that imprisoning women who make false accusations would make others think twice.

“You are correct,” Shelton responded. “Prosecutors are hesitant to go after them because they don’t want victims of sexual assault to not report for fear they may not be believed and then be charged.”

Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation at nearly four times the national average. Studies have found between 2% and 10% of reports are false, according to a report by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Other posts from that year include a repost of a list of “Things that don’t exist,” which includes “the wage gap” and “more than 2 genders.” Shelton comments that he has never witnessed men and women paid differently for the same job in private and government sectors, though he does say he has “noticed that men are more apt to negotiate a wage where women will often settle for the first offer.”

The posts started getting broad traction Monday evening into Tuesday. It’s not clear where the first posts originated.

Mariel Terry, an Anchorage resident, saw them Monday when they came across her Facebook feed. A friend reposted someone else’s post.

Terry said George Floyd’s death and the ensuing outrage has given her a new awareness of police brutality that prompted her to speak out against Shelton’s comments.

“I think it’s pertinent to make the public aware of these sentiments because these are very overt, biased sentiments from someone who is in charge and has the potential to really impact the lives of people who one way or another may be allied with Black Lives Matter,” she said. “I just think the public should know.”

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