In my duties as a police officer, I have been called upon to protect events I disagree with, including several LGBT rallies. I never felt that my personal or religious beliefs “exempted” me from serving or protecting anyone’s First Amendment rights or safety. I love and respect them as fellow children of God; however, I should never be forced to personally celebrate any messages. That is my right. It is unquestionably my duty as a police officer to protect everyone’s right to hold a parade or other event, but is it also my duty to celebrate everyone’s parade?
Last June, a Salt Lake City police office asked to be assigned to a different role than performing figure eights on a motorcycle in front of the Utah Pride parade, a celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights and lifestyle.
At the time, the department indicated that the officer had refused to serve, put him on administrative leave, and opened an investigation. The national media picked up the story, and before the officer could make his case, he became a cause célèbre in the local and national press for the tug of war between nondiscrimination champions and religious liberty advocates.
To date, the officer, no longer with the Salt Lake City Police Department, has remained anonymous. Recently, though, he has through his attorney Brett Rawson released an extensive statement detailing his side of the story.
If what he says in his statement is true, the story is damning to both Salt Lake City Police and the Salt Lake County District Attorney.
If there is more than he is not saying–if there are emails, reports and other documentation of how the department responded to his request for assignment serving in another capacity at the parade–it will be a very expensive mistake for Salt Lake City.
In his statement, the officer claims that he did not refuse to serve his duty at the parade. According to him, swapping assignments is common practice, and he had already found an officer willing to switch when the proverbial feces hit the fan.
[W]hen I, due to my personal beliefs and conscience, did not feel right about performing choreographed motorcycle maneuvers at the front of the Utah Pride Parade, I asked another officer to swap assignments with me. Swaps are a common practice, and reasonable accommodations have, in my experience, always been made for officers requesting a trade. We agreed that I would cover his security and traffic post, and he would do the maneuvers in the parade[…] When I thought about performing in the parade, my conscience did not feel right. I felt that by being an actual participant in the parade, I would be perceived to be supporting certain messages that were contrary to who I am. Had I been allowed to make the swap, it would have been my duty to protect pedestrians at the parade from vehicle traffic
His superiors did not agree, however. The officer says he “told them that I would perform the maneuvers. I didn’t want to lose my job or stability for my family. I thought I would have the choice to be a part of the Motor Squad, or go back to patrol.”
What happened next was the bureaucratic equivalent of swatting a fly with a loaded gun.
[T]he police department suspended me, took away my gun and badge, and told me that I would be investigated for discrimination. Two days later, a police spokesperson gave interviews to the media, and the news reported that I refused to work a security and traffic assignment at the parade. I was immediately branded a bigot.
In the lead up to this administrative suspension and the police spokesman speaking to the media, “nobody in the department that [he knew] of, including myself, had been officially asked questions in an internal affairs investigation.”
Trial my media, before any internal investigation had even commenced.
On the other hand, the officer sent multiple emails to his superiors expressing his willingness to drive in the parade, that he had “no uneasy feelings working any other assignment on this day at the event [including] security, parade post, traffic, etc[,]” and, as he began to worry about the adverse reaction from his superiors, “I will be there for practice and be there for the event to do my assigned position.”
Unfortunately, the Thought Police had already found him and the Social Justice Warriors smelled blood.
The officer first learned that his superiors were passing off the story that he had refused to work at the Utah Pride Parade. He had not refused to work, nor had anyone told him that he would be outed by his superiors.
Within days the story was international and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill was scrambling to soak up media access over the officer’s request.
If [the officer] wants to make that statement then maybe he should be in a different profession than this one. . . . We cannot qualify the delivery of that service, that we promise to a community based on individuals who say, ‘Well I’m going to pick and choose which call to respond to, which fire to put out or which person to serve.’
Suddenly, driving figure eights in a parade where the officer had never refused to work at his job to “protect and serve” had become the equivalent of a fire, instead of what it really was: putting on a fancy display while taking officers off the beat.
Updated 2-25-2015: Eric Moutsos, the officer, has now gone public and identified himself. Learn more here.