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Update 12/7/2020: The Facebook post was deleted Sunday after the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office reported receiving death and arson threats.
An Alabama sheriff’s office is under fire after posting a photo of a Christmas tree edited to include “THUGSHOTS,” or mugshots of the people officers arrested that year, and what appear to be jail-issued sandals as decorations.
“HAPPY THUG THURSDAY MOBILE,” a Facebook post from the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office reads. “We have decorated our Tree with THUGSHOTS to show how many Thugs we have taken off the streets of Mobile this year! We could not have done it without our faithful followers! #weloveu #thanks4sharing.”
The agency then went on to suggest, apparently as a joke, that people come to the sheriff’s office to pick out an item from their property room, at which point they’d be taken to jail, tested for COVID-19, and fitted for a “holiday jumpsuit.”
“Many people ask after receiving their custom fit jumpsuit, What are the different ways to wear a jumpsuit during the holiday season?” the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office continued in their emoji-laden post. “Our experts, #repeatoffenders, say dress it up with a jacket on top, blazer for formal events or a leather jacket for those casual outings…#thebasketballcourtwherenobodyeverplays. You can even tie a jacket around your waist during the day in place of a belt #cuzbeltsarenotallowedatMetro #yikes.”
The post, which has since been shared thousands of times, has garnered outraged comments.
“These people have families, friends, and loved ones that will miss them this season,” one Facebook user wrote under the agency’s Facebook post. “Extremely unprofessional to do this type of thing, honestly pretty trashy. Rubbing salt in the wounds of those who will be missing their son, brother, father, mother, sister, or whoever this Christmas. I hope y’all have started writing out an apology.”
The unusual image comes nearly a year after two police officers in the same county were criticized for a separate Facebook post in which they wished their precinct a “Merry Christmas” and showed off a “homeless quilt” made of signs taken from panhandlers. In that instance, the Mobile police chief apologized and said it was “never our intent or desire as a police department to make light of those who find themselves in a homeless state.”
Whether the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office will offer the same mea culpa remains unclear.
“In this latest post we wanted to show how successful social media is in solving crimes,” Lori Myles, a spokesperson for the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, said in an email. “Ninety percent of our post leads [sic] to an arrest and that is what we were trying to show in this post. This is a tree for social media; it is not in our lobby decorated with mugshots. We know this is a public page therefore we will not edit or delete anyone's opinion. We let our own followers handle that and they have.”
The sheriff’s office has previously made joking Facebook posts calling out alleged crimes or asking for help identifying suspects. On Wednesday, the agency posted an edited photo of Santa Claus holding an image of a person who allegedly broke into the office of a local fishing pier. The man in the image, which appears to have been taken from security footage, is shirtless and tattooed.
“Merry Christmas! Look who made the naughty list…#heischeckinghislist #naughtyornice,” the agency said in the post, which featured a photo of Santa Claus giving a thumbs-down. “We need your help in identifying this “hunk of burnin love” #89wuzagoodyear4him #shouldhavewornurshirt #forseveralreasons.”
While such light-hearted posts aren’t all that uncommon from local police departments or their officers, whether they’re ethical has been a subject of debate for years. Arisha Hatch, vice president of the nonprofit civil rights group Color of Change, told CBS News in 2017 that posts mocking alleged crime suspects can risk making a person the butt of a joke on the worst day of their life.
"The impact of having a mugshot posted on social media for all to see can be incredibly damaging for folks that are parents, for folks that have jobs, for folks that have lives they have to come back to," Hatch said.
Editor’s note 12/4/2020: This post has been updated to include a comment from the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office.