After being back on the job less than a week, Mobile police officer Harold Hurst promptly returned to administrative leave after multiple threats were made against him during a week marked by nationwide protests and attacks on police in response to recent officer-involved shootings.
Hurst had been on paid administrative leave since he shot and killed 19-year-old Michael Moore June 13 following a traffic stop the MPD claims escalated to a confrontation. However, Hurst returned to work on July 1, though not in his previous position as a patrol officer in the city’s third precinct.
Hurst was performing administrative duties in the MPD’s crime prevention unit until word got out about his return to the office — prompting a response from several politicians and pastors in the black community and eventually, the MPD says, threats against the officer.
“We can’t get into specifics, but there were direct threats,” Public Information Officer Terence Perkins said. “For his safety and the safety of the community, he was placed back on administrative leave [July 8].”
Though Perkins didn’t elaborate on the threats, there were and have been several threatening remarks made against Hurst and his supporters in recent weeks. One of those was recently at the center of a political dustup between Mobile Police Chief James Barber and City Councilman Levon Manzie.
A Facebook friend of Manzie’s made online comments calling Hurst a “pig” and urging others to “shoot” him. In previous posts, the man also called the man who shot and killed five police officers in Dallas last week a “martyr.”
However, a separate post pushing “councilmen to do something” also included a negative statement about Barber, and in the comments Manzie told the man the City Council has been working on the issue. He also extended an invitation for him to speak at a City Council meeting in support of a Citizens’ Oversight Council for the MPD.
That issue has been hotly contested, with Barber and Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson coming out against it before the council even brought it up for discussion. A similar fate awaited the initiative when the council last considered it in 2014.
“Is this his idea of citizens’ oversight of the police?” Barber asked. “Because if it is, I will have no part of it.”
Barber refused to take questions at a press conference he called, but Lagniappe later confirmed he never attempted to contact Manzie before live-streaming his statements on the MPD’s Facebook page.
Council spokeswoman Marion Steinfels told Lagniappe she reached out to MPD’s public affairs office to get ahead of the situation but was told she could “find out about it at the press conference.”
Later Manzie said he also wasn’t aware of what of other statements the man had made on his Facebook page because he has more than 4,000 friends on the social media site. Manzie said if he is expected to have read every post from thousands of followers on social media, every other politician should be held to the same standard.
“I had absolutely no knowledge of his sickening and appalling comments and postings as it relates to police officers,” Manzie said. “I disavow them. I don’t believe them. That’s not my heart. That isn’t what I stand up every Sunday and preach.”
However, the councilman did question the chief’s motives because of the way the information was packaged. Asked if he thought the release was related to the upcoming discussions of a Citizens’ Oversight Council, Manzie said he didn’t want to speculate.
However, he thought the manner in which the information was released wasn’t an accident.
“I think this was intentioned to give the public the optic that I had cosigned onto these ridiculous, unnecessary remarks, and I want to state unequivocally that I have been a supporter of the police for the three years I’ve been here,” he added.
The political back and forth has taken precedence over the investigations into Moore’s death, which are still ongoing within the MPD’s homicide department, internal affairs division and the FBI.
Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich confirmed to Lagniappe last week her office has yet to receive a completed investigation file from the MPD. Once it’s completed, Rich’s office has the discretion to investigate the matter further before presenting the existing evidence to a Mobile County grand jury — a group of 18 citizens that will ultimately determine whether Hurst faces charges in Moore’s death.
“We told them we don’t want to get the case file until it’s completed, and that’s what we’re waiting on,” Rich said. “I’m confident they’re working as quickly as they can, and we don’t want them to rush this. We want to them to have all the time they need.”
Previously, U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown has declined to speculate on how long the FBI’s independent investigation through the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division might take.
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