A video posted on Jan. 22 by a pro-Trump Facebook page shows a physical altercation between anti-Trump protesters and a passerby in Washington, D.C. The pedestrian punches a protester, and about 20 seconds later, he hits the same woman in the face a second time.
On Jan. 23, Brian Faustina, a 22-year veteran officer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department, shared the video on his Facebook wall with the text, “Grow up bitches and get a job.” Two retired Port Authority police officers joined in, saying “This needs to happen more often!” and “Thats [sic] what the [sic] all need, a little ass kicking.”
The social media post was shared with ProPublica by a person concerned about the comments by the current and former officers. ProPublica contacted the Port Authority police, and a spokesman, Joe Pentangelo, said the matter has been referred for review to the Port Authority’s Office of the Inspector General, an internal watchdog.
President Donald Trump’s election has provoked concern among civil-rights groups that police across the country may feel emboldened to crack down on public dissent, especially the kinds of public protests that have grown up in recent years around incidents of real or alleged police violence and misconduct. Those worries have not been eased in recent days with the White House declaration outlining its law enforcement strategy.
“President Trump will honor our men and women in uniform and will support their mission of protecting the public,” an online White House statement reads. “The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it.”
“Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter,” the statement added. “Our job is to make life more comfortable for parents who want their kids to be able to walk the streets safely. Or the senior citizen waiting for a bus. Or the young child walking home from school.”
Police officers in several states — New Jersey, New York, California, Florida, Louisiana and Missouri — have been investigated or disciplined in recent years for expressing themselves on social media and for sending problematic emails and text messages.
In August 2014, just weeks after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, two St. Louis-area police officers were suspended, one for a YouTube video in which he ranted against Muslims and women, and another for Facebook comments he made comparing Ferguson protesters to rabid dogs that should be “put down.” In March 2015, two Ferguson police officers resigned and a court clerk was fired after a federal investigation uncovered racist emails associated with the three former employees.
In other cases, it’s not possible to hold officers accountable for making incendiary statements in their personal and online lives.
For instance, Thee Rant — an online forum created for current and former New York City police officers — features racist posts that sometimes flare up in response to current events and police-involved incidents.
A post from Jan. 30 referred to an American Muslim as “a goat-fu-cker [sic] from Jordan with a thick accent! He’s yapping like he came over on the Mayflower! Get the fu-ck [sic] back to the desert!” Some of the blog’s other posts have likened African Americans to “apes” and said that a Middle Eastern cab driver was a “third worlder” deserving of having his “head split open.”
Stephen Davis, the NYPD’s chief spokesman, has said that the blog’s anonymity prevents the department from being able to track down who the posters are. The department’s policy is that officers should not be on social media except for official business, Davis has said.
In April 2015, San Francisco’s police chief tried to fire several officers who had exchanged racist and homophobic text messages in 2012, but a judge later overturned the decision, saying the police department had waited too long to discipline the officers. Even so, the department reviewed thousands of old cases in light of the text messages, looking for signs that police officers’ biases had resulted in improper arrests or prosecutions.
Asked whether the department had an official policy on officers’ engagement with electronic media, Pentangelo of the Port Authority police said it was necessary to submit a public records request to get that information.
The apparent Facebook posting by the officer came just days after President Trump’s inauguration. Since then, protests and marches have taken place nationwide, most recently in response to President Trump’s travel ban, which targets people from several majority-Muslim countries as well as all refugees. Over the weekend, Port Authority police were on-site at John F. Kennedy International Airport as protesters gathered in opposition to the ban. The Port Authority also decided to suspend AirTrain service to the airport “due to crowding conditions,” a decision that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reversed to accommodate people’s “right to peacefully protest.”
There were no complaints of Port Authority police misconduct or mistreatment of protesters over the weekend, Pentangelo said.
In the video in question, several protesters can be seen blocking a crosswalk, with one of them holding a flag that bears the logo for Antifa International, part of a self-described anti-fascism movement. As the protesters part to allow a pedestrian through, another one follows closely behind, shoves through the protesters and starts shouting profanities.
The pedestrian, a white man, then punches one of the protesters, and a small scuffle ensues. About 20 seconds later, the same passerby hits the same protester, a white woman who at one point shows a police officer blood from her mouth.
The aggressor is not seen on video being restrained or reprimanded by police. Law enforcement agents do, however, handcuff another one of the protesters, seemingly for getting involved in the altercation that ensued after the pedestrian landed his first punch.
The Port Authority police officer who re-posted the video, Brian Faustina, was hired in February 1995. Faustina says on his Facebook profile that he works for the Special Operations Division and Commercial Vehicle Inspection units. When asked to confirm Faustina’s current assignment within the Port Authority police, Pentangelo told ProPublica to file a public records request for the information.
A New York Post article from March 2016 reported that Faustina was one of more than 100 Port Authority police officers with unresolved internal charges. In 2015, even while Faustina faced two “minor” disciplinary cases, according to the article, he earned $240,676 in salary, overtime and other payments. Pentangelo declined to comment on Faustina’s disciplinary charges.
Faustina, reached at a Bergen County, New Jersey, telephone number, declined to comment when asked about the Facebook video and his position at the Port Authority Police Department.
One of the two retired police officers who commented on Faustina’s post was James Harley. Harley, who worked as a Port Authority police officer for 25 years and retired more than a decade ago, said that his Facebook comment reflects his view that police should do more to clamp down on violent protesters.
“People shouldn’t be blocking the sidewalks and roadways so they can’t get to work or where they want to go,” he said in a phone interview. “Protesting is fine, but when they cause violence, the police should be able to arrest them.”
“President Trump, in his speeches, he speaks highly of the police. We haven’t had that in eight years,” he added.
ProPublica could not reach the other retired officer for comment.
–Patrick Lee, ProPublica