Flagler County Sheriff’s detention deputy Cpl. Peter Descartes served a one-day suspension without pay last month following an internal investigation over allegations that he referred to a Black inmate by a racist slur in November. Descartes is himself Black, and denied using the term saying he used a different word that sounds similar.
Descartes will mark 18 years with the agency in November. He had previously been disciplined in 2018.
The complaint was filed by Christopher Brock, a 29-year-old Palm Coast resident who’d been jailed last August 27 on charges of trafficking cocaine, unlawful use of a two-way communication device and grand theft, all felonies. Last January Brock pleaded to the drug charges and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was transferred out of the county jail on Jan. 25 and is currently at Bay Correctional, a minimum-security prison in Panama City.
The incident involving Descartes took place on Nov. 20, when Brock was still at the county jail. According to an internal inquiry, Brock was in line for meal service that afternoon and requested a disposable cup. Descartes denied him, which means he got no drink. Brock allegedly called Descartes “Nasty,” and would later tell authorities it wasn’t the first time that Descartes had denied him a cup. He said he’d warned Descartes that he would write him up Descartes allegedly called him a “thirsty n…,” using the racial slur.
The incident was alleged to have been witnessed or overheard by four inmates. A commander interviewed all four. All four confirmed that Descartes had leveled the slur at Brock.
Descartes, when interviewed by an investigator, confirmed that an incident had taken place with Brock, but he said “he never uses that terminology and advised that he called Inmate Brock a ‘Thirsty Nucca.’ No further explanation was given at that time.” That was shortly after the incident. On Dec. 1, a commander requested that the complaint be forwarded to the agency’s Professional Standards division for an inquiry into unbecoming conduct. A week later, Chief Mark Strobridge authorized Detective Ryan Doyle, who usually conducts internal affairs investigation, to open an inquiry.
By mid-February, Descartes had signed a request for expedited discipline. The request he signed “specifies that he does not wish to contest the factual allegations made against him,” the inquiry found. Doyle interviewed him in late February. He did not deny that he prevented Brock from getting a drink, explaining that Brock had no cup to exchange, so would not get a drink for that reason. As Brock continued to banter about Descartes being nasty, “Descartes advised that he responded by saying, ‘Ya and you will be a thirsty knucka,'” according to the inquiry.
Descartes, the inquiry goes on, “explained the term and its origin by advising that it is a term that he uses with his family, nieces and nephews. Descartes further explained that the term ‘Knucka’ means knucklehead. Descartes immediately advised that he as a deputy knows that he should not refer to the inmates by anything other than their name and he acknowledged that he got caught up in the moment and knows his response was incorrect and regardless of what was actually said. He said there was a history of minor issues between him and Brock. “Descartes did not suggest that this was a vindictive and condemning complaint fabricated by Brock but Descartes did not discount that this could have been a motivating factor when breached by Detective Doyle,” the report states.
Descartes said “he wished that he could have had the opportunity to explain and inform Brock that he did not use the term described nor would he ever. Descartes advised that he too finds the term offensive and it is just not in his nature to use such a derogatory term.” The investigation concluded: “Descartes has taken accountability for his actions for engaging in an unprofessional verbal exchange while remaining adamant that he did not use” the more derogatory term and never would. “There is nothing in Descartes employment history to indicate that he has or does use profanity or racial slurs during the course of his duties or in his private life. Cpl. Descartes appears to be genuinely sincere in his response to these allegations and accepts responsibility for any discipline associated with these actions.” Doyle did not interview the other inmates.
Doyle’s report includes a research note about the term “nucca,” which he found on the web at the Urban Dictionary, including that definition in the report: “The word is used for a white person to call each other,” so as not to use the more racist term with the same alliteration.
The inquiry found Descartes to have violated two policies–unbecoming conduct band behavior and language. The latter requires sheriff’s employees to always, while on duty, “maintain command of temper, patience, and discretion. Employees shall refrain from using improper, obscene, profane, or insolent language.” Unbecoming conduct carries penalties ranging from suspension to termination. Violation of the behavior and language requirement carries penalties ranging from “any non-disciplinary action and/or 12 hours up to 24 hours of suspension.”
Descartes did not actually lose a work day, but had a day deducted from his accrued leave time after the notice of discipline was issued on March 12.