A Florida police department is deciding what to do with an officer who implied someone should crash a car into the parking lot where activists, including Parkland student David Hogg, were hosting a “die-in” to protest gun violence.
Coconut Creek Police officer Brian Valenti, a 23-year veteran with the department, commented under a photo of Hogg, who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14. “Hope some old lady loses control of her car in that lot. Jus saying…..,” Valenti wrote, referring to a planned protest led by Hogg at Publix grocery stores, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Hogg and others drew 17 chalk outlines on the pavement outside the store to represent the 17 people killed in Parkland.
The protest centered on the supermarket chain’s donations to gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, a self-proclaimed “proud #NRASellout” who has received $650,000 from Publix over the last three years. In response, gun-control advocates, led by Hogg, demanded Publix change their ways — and, in response, Publix suspended its political donations.
The officer’s comment was later deleted, but not before a woman took a screenshot and sent it to Coconut Creek commissioners and Police Chief Butch Arenal Saturday evening and urged him to suspend or fire the officer, the Sun-Sentinel reported Sunday. Arenal said the matter would be formally handled on Tuesday, but the Coconut Creek Police Department was not immediately available to comment.
Rod Skirvin, a union leader and recently retired Coconut Creek detective, told the Sun-Sentinel that Valenti was “distraught” over the incident.
“He feels terrible and is very willing to apologize in person,” Skirvin said. “We are going to speak to the chief on Tuesday when he goes back to work. There will be disciplinary repercussions for him.”
In an email to Kim Simonson, the woman who took the screenshot, Chief Arenal called the officer’s comment “unprofessional and inappropriate.”
“The officer admitted that it was in poor taste, and indicated that it was meant as a joke, but certainly didn’t come off that way,” the chief’s email went on to say, according to the Sun-Sentinel. “It is for that reason that he thought it better to remove the post. He will be offering an apology, as he has indicated that he wants to do whatever he has to do to make it right.”
It’s unclear, however, when that apology might happen.
This isn't the first time Hogg has been the recipient of attacks from gun rights supporters, including the NRA itself. Hogg was also infamously compared to Hitler by some members of the right after a photo from the March for Our Lives showed himself raising his fist into the air in solidarity with his fellow protesters.
Cover image: David Hogg, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas speaks outside a Publix Supermarket in Coral Springs, Fla., Friday, May 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Terry Spencer)