An arbitrator on Friday upheld the Minneapolis Police Department's July 2020 firing of an officer over Facebook posts the department considered racist.
But although the arbitrator ruled that the Police Department does not have to reinstate the former officer, Jesse L. Crofton, the decision did not rest on whether Crofton's social media posts were offensive enough to justify termination.
In "an awkward twist with 180 degree turnabout," arbitrator Richard J. Miller wrote, the decision was based on a completely different issue: Crofton's insistence that he was ready to go back on patrol duty despite having filed a disability claim.
Because of that, the arbitrator, who was selected by both parties from the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services, questioned Crofton's "believability and credibility."
Crofton, a Marine Corps veteran who served a combat tour in Iraq and was honorably discharged, spent five years as a Hennepin County sheriff's deputy and was hired by the Minneapolis Police Department in 2014.
In performance reviews, he met or exceeded expectations. He had no previous disciplinary record.
On his Facebook page, Crofton goes by the name of "Spartan Crofton" and did not identify himself as a police officer or Minneapolis city employee.
Although the page is mostly empty now, records show he posted 851 times in 2017.
An unnamed Facebook friend and fellow city employee complained that eight of the posts were "inappropriate" because they seemed to malign Muslims.
For example, in November 2017, Crofton shared a post from a site called "Jar Heads Family" of an article titled "Muslim Thug Smiles As Widow Cries At Murder Trial, Judge's 6 Words Slap Smirk Off His Face."
Crofton added his own comment to the post: "Rot and die!!!!!!!" calling the alleged defendant an expletive.
Other shared posts expressed contempt for Islam and for Somali Americans.
In 2018, a conduct review panel unanimously concluded that the posts violated the Minnesota Law Enforcement Ethics Code.
At a January hearing, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said Crofton violated department policy by expressing thoughts "that seem to pick out Muslim Americans, African Americans," harming his credibility as one expected to serve a diverse citizenry.
"[T]o expect us to put this uniform back on the next day and say, well, no, that's not how I'm going to treat you when I deal with you professionally ... a reasonable person would not think that is the case," Arradondo said in his testimony at Crofton's hearing. "In this profession, we are being held to a higher standard, as we should be."
Crofton's attorney argued that none of his client's social media posts "were insensitive or biased." The city should not "consider someone possibly being offended" by something Crofton posted off duty as cause for discipline, he said, adding, "The city is starting down a dangerous road as 'Thought Police.' "
But in the end, the arbitrator's decision not to reinstate Crofton was unrelated to his Facebook posts.
At the hearing, Crofton repeatedly expressed a wish to return to active duty, specifically a patrol assignment.
But his lawyer, without explanation, mentioned "potential workers' comp claims" and questions about Crofton's "mental ability" and "physical ability to return to work."
This led to the revelation that Crofton had been pursuing disability benefits based on an injury he said occurred in October 2020, months after he'd been fired.
Concluding that Crofton had been dishonest and that it's "unclear whether Crofton is physically and mentally able to return to work" or even wanted to, Miller dismissed the case.
Katy Read • 612-673-4583