On Aug. 25, the News-Journal’s Frank Fernandez reported on the resignation of Theresa Pontieri, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s recently hired general counsel, after the News-Journal had inquired about inflammatory videos she had posted on a conservative social media platform.
“In some of the videos, Theresa Pontieri, who is white, disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement. In one video, she referred to a Black girl who police in Ohio fatally shot as ‘thuggy,'” Fernandez reported. (“It’s hard to determine the exact point at which the centuries-old [N-word] was supplanted by its newer, more criminal progeny ‘thug’,” Ebony magazine wrote, “but take a cursory glance at social media and mainstream new media alike, and it is clear that the replacement is now in full effect.”)
“In another video,” Fernandez reported, “she said she did not condone but understood why those who stormed the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6 were angry that then-Vice President Mike Pence was not supporting former President Donald Trump’s assertion without evidence that the election was stolen from him.” The videos were posted before Pontieri’s hire date, and immediately deleted after Fernandez inquired about them to the Sheriff’s Office. She had started the $95,674-a-year job on July 6.
On Sept. 1, Pontieri described her resignation as “forced.” In a letter to the Observer, she wrote: “When I was sworn in as general counsel for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, I swore to uphold the Constitution and to not allow personal opinions or emotions to affect my decision-making. Public officials, judges, and even our sheriff are expected to uphold this credo, and I was committed to doing the same. As an attorney, I’m sworn to uphold the law and make decisions based in the law, and I am confident in my ability to carry out my duties with those paramount principles in mind. Not once while working for the Sheriff’s Office were my official actions or decision-making called into question. Put simply, I was forced to resign not because of my official actions or words, but because of opinions that were constitutionally expressed months before being hired.”
Pontieri, who’d written of being “tired of seeing victims of crime and the police that protect us being cast aside, while people perpetrating crimes are being uplifted in order to further a political narrative,” described her forced resignation as being “canceled” and as “nothing less than an act of complicity with the very atrocity I was trying to advocate against.” The letter, without specifics, blamed media, “virtue-signaling,” “a political narrative” and a refusal to address “endless black-on-black crime,” among other issues.
The letter prompted a reply from Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly, below.
As a result of my 46 years in law enforcement experience, I have a deep and abiding appreciation for our law enforcement officers, who protect and serve their communities. I am also deeply sensitive to those who are victimized by criminal activity. Under normal circumstances, I would appreciate public comments supporting officers and victims .
Unfortunately, Ms. Pontieri’s remarks crossed a line. Regardless of her intentions, some of her comments were racially insensitive and offensive. I support the rights of members of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office to express themselves as private citizens on matters of public interest. However when comments are racially insensitive and create a perception of bias, they may adversely reflect on the employee’s objectivity and negatively reflect on the agency as well.
In this case, Ms. Pontieri’s remarks reflected negatively on herself, and by implication, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. Due to the close working relationship between a general counsel and a Sheriff, her position necessarily required my trust and confidence. Regrettably, her remarks created significant concerns regarding her judgment and impartiality, and in my view, irreparably compromised her ability to effectively perform her duties as General Counsel.
Prior to tendering her resignation, Ms. Pontieri was apologetic for her actions and appeared to take responsibility for her conduct. It is unfortunate that she has now taken a defensive tone.
In closing, I wish to reiterate that my concerns with Ms. Pontieri’s remarks were directed at the manner in which she expressed her views. I respect the constitutional rights of employees to express themselves on matters of public concern. However, when the speech in question is beyond informative but rather is offensive, divisive, and inflammatory, it may adversely affect the employee’s effectiveness within the Agency and the community. For this reason, I accepted Ms. Pontieri’s resignation as General Counsel of the Flagler County Sheriffs Office.