Tim Porter, the police chief of Sioux Rapids in northwest Iowa, has reportedly been suspended for two weeks without pay and will undergo sensitivity training after his Facebook post earlier this month that read, “HIT THE GAS AND HANG ON OVER THE ROAD BUMPS” in response to a news article about a Black Lives Matter protest outside a Des Moines Hy-Vee.
The City Council for the town of about 750 residents held a special meeting Monday evening to determine disciplinary action against Porter over the incident. About 100 people gathered outside a maintenance shop where the meeting took place, according to local TV station KMEG, many in support of Porter. Another area station, KTIV, aired a clip of the crowd chanting, “Porter! Porter!”
In a 16-minute YouTube video published by the Spencer Daily Reporter, which also wrote about the meeting (subscription required), nine people outside the maintenance shop shared their thoughts about the controversy. All but one spoke in favor of Porter, including a Black man who reflected affectionately on their relationship. Others supported his right to free speech and accused the media of blowing the incident out of proportion.
The one man who offered criticism identified himself as a father of five children, two of whom are African American (he was white). “Sioux Rapids is a predominantly white community, and being a minority in this community has to be difficult,” he said. “But if you feel like the chief of police does not support you, that would make it almost impossible to live in this community.” According to data from the 2010 census, when the town’s population was marginally larger, it was over 94 percent white.
Scanning the crowd around him, the man continued: “Anybody here in this area — well, most everybody — can walk through a community in any one of our neighborhoods and nobody would look at [them] twice. I have a son that’s six-foot-four, Black, and he is watched at all times. If we go into stores, somebody’s usually watching him.”
The man was followed by another who said “there was nothing racial” about Porter’s Facebook comment, suggesting that it also may have been taken out of context and that the police chief shouldn’t be judged for it. “If people are hurt by what other people say, get some tougher skin,” he said. “That’s all I got to say about that.”
Porter himself attempted to excuse his comment in a rambling explanation to a central Iowa TV station in which he claimed it had been intended as a response to a different post — but didn’t bother to say what the topic of that post supposedly was. “I was on another post working and somehow it accidentally was posted on the wrong post,” he said. “I just want to publicly apologize for my horrible mistake, my posting was a total accident. I don’t want to offend anyone. I’m all for peaceful protest, bad cops getting removed. People that know me, know I would never encourage anyone to run over any protester or anyone. I’m for change like everyone. I feel horrible for my mistake. I’m sorry for all the confusion.”
Porter spoke at the end of the meeting Monday evening before going outdoors and bowing his head as he listened to a prayer spoken by the man who facilitated the crowd’s comments earlier. He thanked the residents for showing up. “These guys here are very fair,” he added, pointing to the council members as he addressed the suspension. “We discussed it, and I think it’s a very appropriate decision, and I believe in what they do, and, basically, thanks.”
After a screenshot of Porter’s comment was posted June 22, it spread across social media and the police chief made his Facebook profile no longer publicly viewable. The town’s website also went down (it’s back up now). The Informer attempted to contact the Sioux Rapids Police Department then for comment, but our message was not returned. We were also unable to reach anyone at City Hall — which is apparently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic — about why the website was down.
Last Tuesday, the mayor and City Council issued a statement announcing they would take “any and all disciplinary action deemed necessary in this situation.” In the statement, which is now accessible from the town’s website, the mayor and council members added: “Public trust and accountability are the foundations of policing. When an officer violates that trust, it is our responsibility to ensure that it does not occur again. We are committed to running a police department that respects the rights of every officer and every citizen and guest of our community.”
A week after the statement was issued, the council went into closed session as allowed under Iowa law to “evaluate the professional competency of an individual whose appointment, hiring, performance or discharge is being considered when necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury to that individual’s reputation and that individual requests a closed session.”
The five-member council unanimously decided to suspend Porter for two weeks without pay. Following the closed session, council member Lynda Swanson announced that not only Porter but council members as well would take sensitivity training “because none of us are perfect, and we can learn from the class, just like he will.”