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Community leaders protest promotion of Panama City police officer who posed with ’black labs matter’ sign

Jacqueline Bostick
jbostick@pcnh.com
The News Herald

PANAMA CITY — Protesters gathered at the Panama City Police Department on Friday after the promotion of an officer who posed in a controversial photo in May.

The officer, Melanie Law, had been exonerated and since promoted from lieutenant to captain following an investigation into a controversial incident in which she posed for a photo with a pair of dogs and their owners, next to a sign that stated, ’black labs matter,’ during a social justice protest held May 31 on State Road 77 and 23rd Street.

RELATED: (June 2020) Panama City Police officer placed on administrative leave after posing with ‘Black Labs Matter’ sign and dogs

The department’s decision became the impetus of a protest Friday morning calling for "further review" of Law’s actions. Protesters also called for diversity training for the PCPD, regular and open dialogue with department administration and the establishment of a citizen review board.

"This falls under that trust building. Trust building is not just across community to authority and government, but it's also within community as well," said Janice Lucas, executive director of LEAD Coalition. "After having shared our concern that the photograph was a lack of respect, a mockery of the movement, the police said they would get back with us and they didn't. The next thing we know, she was promoted."

"We're asking for further review, an ongoing communication — not just a reactionary communication — to move our dialogue to another level," she added.

According to the investigative summary by PCPD Lt. Jeff Rogers, the investigation started June 4 and concluded June 12. During that period of time, Law was made aware of the investigation, issued a sworn statement of that day's events, and was put on paid administrative leave.

Rogers stated in the summary, Law "is exonerated of the accusation that she violated Panama City Police Department General Orders 225.01 Social Media, 215.00 Speech Policy, and 207.00 Code of Conduct."

Tony Bostick, vice-president of Northwest Florida Minority Business Chamber and father to News Herald reporter Jacqueline Bostick, suggested City Manager Mark McQueen and PCPD Police Chief Scott Ervin defended Law's actions on a phone call Thursday.

"We got the understanding that there was no nefarious intent on her part, she didn't read the sign, .... she didn't mean to do it, investigations have turned out that nobody thought she meant to do this," Bostick said. "My answer (to those statements) is this: I don't care what nobody thought, what does the picture say. The picture says she did it with a smile. Perception is 90% of the game — everyday."

According to the investigative summary, Bostick had filed the complaint against Law and on June 18 provided a sworn statement. The summary stated Bostick believed the photo could be viewed "in a negative light."

"What impression am I supposed to be left with when you (are pictured) with a sign saying 'black labs matter' and 'all labs matter' and arrows pointing to a dog? That a dog matters more? Plus, you're making a mockery of the Black Lives Matter protest going on," Bostick said, further emphasizing "nothing came out of it," referring to the call with McQueen and Ervin.

While, according to the report, the photo did receive negative comments on social media, the investigation concluded Law did not violate any rules. The investigation included several witness interviews, including protesters of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

"By all accounts, her interactions that day, with everyone present at the demonstration, were professional and courteous. No one present at the demonstration that day has come forward to complain about Lt. Law's actions," Rogers wrote at the conclusion of the investigation report.

Law has served on the police force since May 21, 2002 and has been reprimanded once for failing to end a pursuit as required by policy. She was promoted to Lieutenant on Feb. 27, 2018.

For Myron Hines, who attended the protest to "support the cause" on behalf of A-CURE (Advisory Committee for Urban Revitalization Equity), the resolution is found in being proactive in things that impact Black people — and "(law enforcement) need to take that seriously."

"The Black Lives Matter movement is a real, genuine movement. And to make fun of it is a (sign) that we don't count enough to be considered before making decisions," Hines said. "To be a lieutenant in the police department and not be more observant than what you were with a sign like that ... you're a lieutenant in the police department, you're supposed to see more than what you saw."

"Now you're a captain, so what are you observant about," he added. "I don't believe they care about us or how we're treated."

In an emailed statement on behalf of the PCPD in response to Friday's protest, officials said they were confident in Law, as she "is the most qualified candidate to lead our police officers in the position of captain."

"A thorough investigation into the complaint made against Panama City Police Capt. Melanie Law was completed and revealed no ill intent. Additionally, interviews with citizens at the protest shared that Capt. Law was professional and courteous to all who were protesting," officials said.

The statement touted her leadership across Law's nearly two decades of service.

"City leadership is confident in Capt. Law and her ability to continue serving our citizens and visitors," officials said.