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JSO investigates reports of sergeant's racist social media posts

JSO Gang Unit Sgt. Douglas Howell attended a campaign event for T.K. Waters on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.
JSO Gang Unit Sgt. Douglas Howell attended a campaign event for T.K. Waters on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has begun an investigation into a sergeant accused of posting racist messages on social media.

Internal Affairs investigators are "currently in the midst of an active administrative investigation related to multiple reports of an employee allegedly posting disparaging material on a personal social media account," Sheriff Pat Ivey said in a statement late Tuesday afternoon.

"Detectives have begun working in their attempts to verify whether these posts are legitimate and most important, determine whether the individual responsible for the posts may be a JSO employee," the statement said.

Ivey did not identify the employee, but media reports have quoted tweets they say are associated with Gang Unit Sgt. Douglas Howell.

One tweet said, "America’s three biggest problems: 1) Marijuana abuse 2) Marijuana abuse 3) Black people.” That tweet was published in 2013, according to a report from News4Jax, a WJCT News partner.

Another appeared to disparage Boy and Girl Scouts at Jacksonville's Pride Day Parade. "This is absolutely infuriating. These people are sick and demented,” the tweet said.

Howell has since made his Twitter feed private and declined to comment.

Ivey said he had reached out to Bishop Rudolph McKissick of Bethel Baptist Church, who called for a investigation and said the tweets illustrate why some in the Black community distrust police.

"We spoke of the allegations and ensuing implications, and I assured him these allegations would be investigated to conclusion — as we have done in the past when allegations of social media violations have come to light," Ivey said.

"Our goal during the process will be to ensure a complete and accurate investigation is conducted with all available information," his statement said. "I want to ensure that any potential discipline levied for identified violations of policy is as inclusive as possible and that all applicable posts are captured prior to this decision being made."

News4JAX reported that both sheriff candidates in the Nov. 8 election condemned the social media posts.

"There is no place for racism or discrimination in the JSO, and I will not tolerate it as your next Sheriff," said Republican T.K. Waters. "While it is important that the Sheriff’s Office complete their investigation into this situation, I find these alleged posts deeply disturbing. They subvert JSO’s efforts to improve trust and they undermine our officers’ ability to build bridges throughout Jacksonville."

Democrat Lakesha Burton said, "As a mother, a Black woman with three sons, I automatically thought that is not the officer I would want my sons to encounter. But, in reality, the police officer has a right to a fair and impartial investigation to determine if there is legitimacy to this complaint. Obviously, an investigation will be done and if he’s found to have done the post he should be held accountable.”

Randy comes to Jacksonville from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, where, as metro editor, he led investigative coverage of the Parkland school shooting that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for public service. He has spent more than 40 years in reporting and editing positions in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. You can reach Randy at or on Twitter, @rroguski.