Polk Co. Sheriff’s Office Launches Investigation into Jailer’s Racist Social Media Posts

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The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has opened an investigation into the offensive social media posts published by jailer Alan Blaylock, office Sgt. Brandon Bracelin has confirmed to the Informer.

Blaylock’s comments, which the Informer first reported on over the weekend, began coming to light Friday after Des Moines resident Chelsea Vargas posted a screenshot on Facebook of the detention officer’s racially charged response to something she’d written on the social media website, apparently about recent news of police fatally shooting black men under dubious circumstances. “I have a simply [sic] solution to your problem Chelsea,” Blaylock wrote. “[I]f you need the cops, don’t call us. That way you don’t have to worry about us [sic] ‘murdering you cause of your color’ solution to your problem.”

Vargas’ post of the screenshot went viral. She also put it on Twitter, and on Saturday, Los Angeles-based journalist Aura Bogado dug up more messages Blaylock had published on Twitter after noticing it, tweeting screenshots of them to the account of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office (Blaylock’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have since been taken down). The sheriff’s office account replied to Bogado, disavowing Blaylock’s remarks and adding that “we are in the process of addressing this matter.”

“As soon as I was made aware of [Blaylock’s messages] I let our command staff know,” said Bracelin, adding that the investigation process had just begun and there was not yet an estimated date by which it would be concluded.

“Discipline,” Bracelin said, “can range anywhere from sensitivity training all the way up to separation,” but it was too early to say what the likeliest outcome might be.

Several of the messages of Blaylock’s that were sent to the sheriff’s office, including ones with disparaging remarks about Mexicans, gays, and women, dated back as far as January 2013. Blaylock didn’t start working in the sheriff’s office until March 16, and a week or so ago was promoted from part-time to full-time work at roughly the same hourly wage of around $19.

After his employment began, Blaylock’s social media posts continued to be in poor taste. “It’s sad how people in Walmart smell worse than the inmates I deal with in jail,” one read. Another: “I love my job. I can run my housing unit the way I want. I can make it a chill night, or keep everyone on their toes lol. It’s too much fun.”

The jailer’s recent messages, as far as the investigation goes, will be reviewed under existing department policies on off-duty behavior or Polk County employees’ computer use, depending on from where Blaylock made the posts, according to Bracelin.

“But in all actuality, it comes down to basic common sense if you’re going to identify yourself as a Polk County Sheriff’s Office employee,” he added. “We hold our employees to a higher standard, and so does the general public, no doubt. So this is not acceptable. It’s inappropriate, and it definitely doesn’t reflect the views of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.”

Despite the contempt for county inmates expressed in the messages under investigation, Bracelin said that he had “no knowledge of any complaints from any inmates” specifically against the jailer.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.