University Police Department Sergeant John Packer talks with The Lumberjack on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at Jitter Bean Coffee Co. in downtown Arcata. Recently, Packer released a statement to the media regarding racist remarks from UPD Chief Donn Peterson. | Photo by Deija Zavala

UPD Sergeant Speaks Out

Officer John Packer recounts racist remarks from UPD Chief Donn Peterson.

Officer John Packer recounts racist remarks from UPD Chief Donn Peterson

In August, nine of 10 University Police Department officers made votes of “no confidence” in Chief Donn Peterson. Now, UPD Sergeant John Packer has released a statement detailing some of the racist remarks made by Peterson to Packer.

In one instance, Packer was in an evaluation meeting with Peterson and UPD Lieutenant Melissa Hanson. Hanson told Packer that she and him weren’t friends and never would be. Packer didn’t know what that had to do with the evaluation, but he agreed.

Then Peterson escalated the situation, according to Packer.

“It went right from the first statement of me saying ‘I agree’ to him saying, ‘You know, John, you’re obligated to work as a slave unto his master,’” Packer said. “’And I’m like, in my head, ‘What the heck?’”

Packer said the next morning, Peterson made another comment to him while walking in the hallway.

“He says to me, ‘Hey John, I can say that because we both read the Bible,’” Packer said. “And now I’m speechless. So now you’re justifying what you said last night?”

John Packer shows his Sergeant’s badge. Packer has been a police officer for 26 years. 16 of which have been with UPD. | Photo by Deija Zavala

Earlier this month, Packer, who is the only African American officer on Peterson’s staff, wrote a statement distributed by the Statewide University Police Association detailing Peterson’s remarks.

However, Packer said before he released his statement, Peterson purposefully moved him to graveyard shift. According to Packer, sergeants have priority pick of shifts, but on Aug. 28 Packer was moved to graveyard under the guise of a Personal Improvement Plan.

Packer told the Lumberjack that the PIP listed two reasons for the shift change: compliance with university procedures and documentation, and maintaining a professional and equitable relationship with all members of the UPD team.

According to Packer, Peterson wrote on the paperwork that he suspected Packer’s “inability to perform” in the first reason was closely tied to the indifference Packer demonstrated in the second.

Packer, an HSU graduate, has lived in Humboldt for nearly 40 years. He served with the Arcata Police Department for 10 years before coming to UPD. He has been with UPD for 16 years.

After serving under seven police chiefs during his 26 years as an officer, Packer said that although he has faced racist comments from people in the workplace and some he has arrested, he has never faced such consistent racism from a superior.

Packer’s statement was released in response to statements made by Peterson in interviews with the North Coast Journal and the Times Standard. According to Packer, Peterson’s claims of misinterpretation of his statements are insulting and do not excuse his actions.

Although he has faced racist comments from people in the workplace and some he has arrested, Packer said he has never faced such consistent racism from a superior.

Packer said six to nine months after the first incident, Peterson, while frustrated, made another comment.

“He said, ‘John, you’re like dealing with the North versus the South,’” Packer said. “And I’m like, okay, I have no idea what you mean by that. I’m not going to get into that.”

Packer wrote that such remarks have only become worse over time.

“Chief Peterson has become more emboldened over the past four years, and moved from making private remarks in our meetings, to demonstrating obvious displays of racism and contempt towards me in whatever audience is available,” Packer wrote.

SUPA’s press release came almost a month after the nearly unanimous vote of no confidence, and Packer’s statement came soon after.

In the statement, UPD Officer Billy Kijsriopas accused Peterson of frequent absenteeism, manipulation of crime statistics and the creation of a hostile work environment that included racial slurs.

The statement also noted that Peterson left his previous job with Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s Department “amid scandal.”

“Chief Peterson has become more emboldened over the past four years, and moved from making private remarks in our meetings, to demonstrating obvious displays of racism and contempt towards me in whatever audience is available.”

UPD Sergeant John Packer

According to a 2015 article from a Florida news channel, Peterson was involved in a scandal in which multiple department officials used impounded vehicles to avoid toll fees. The Broward Sheriff’s Office was eventually assigned to investigate itself and no arrests appear to have been made.

Peterson denied the recent UPD allegations last month over the phone, but said he supported the investigation as he wanted to strive for transparency.

Peterson declined to comment for this story, and instead referred The Lumberjack to HSU Director of News and Information Aileen Yoo, who then forwarded an email from Vice President for Administration and Finance Douglas Dawes.

In the email, Dawes said HSU has retained the Office of Independent Review, an independent law enforcement firm, to investigate the allegations.

“Out of respect for the process, which could take several months, I have asked Chief Peterson not to comment further until the investigation has concluded,” Dawes said.

SUPA President Jeffrey Solomon said over the phone that it wouldn’t be fair for him to comment on the investigation either, as he called it a local matter. However, Solomon acknowledged what he called “an overwhelming amount of information” that has come forward.

“I have no reason not to believe those officers and their allegations,” Solomon said.

The SUPA Facebook page shared articles from the Times Standard and Lost Coast Outpost on Friday, Nov. 8, about the vote of no confidence and the retention of the OIR.

A Humboldt State University University Police Department vehicle on Nov. 10. UPD Chief Donn Peterson is curently under investigation for the use of racist slurs, frequent absenteeism and the manipulation of crime statistics. | Photo by James Wilde

Despite the events of the last two months, Packer said the UPD office environment does not feel awkward or uncomfortable, as the department already made a vote of no confidence before Packer shared his experiences.

“It’s not awkward right now amongst the officers and dispatchers because we already knew that we had a consensus before I released my statement,” Packer said.

Packer returned to the office, and normal day shifts, after several days off on Nov. 7. It was Packer’s first time since the release of his statement.

Thus far, Packer said no words have been exchanged between him and Peterson.

“I got a nod, and you know, that’s fine,” Packer said. “But no conversations so far. Nothing negative happened.”

Packer said Peterson has always been very professional in public. However, Packer said he has begun to be critiqued through department emails.

“Included in that email will be, you know, ‘We still have divisiveness in the department and you’re still at the center of that and I need you to own the fact that you’re the center of that,’” Packer said.

Packer said Peterson has also berated him to other officers behind his back.

Packer said interviews with the OIR are coming up in a few weeks, and he hopes the investigation will examine and validate the allegations and bring them to HSU.

“They will put together a packet for the University—I assume that will go to the vice president,” Packer said. “These are the things that are inherently prohibiting this police department from functioning professionally.”

Full Statement from Sgt. John Packer:

My name is John Packer and I have served under seven Chiefs during my 26 years as a police officer in this community and currently serve as a sergeant at the University Police Department (UPD). I am the senior police officer in the department and have served under Chief Donn Peterson for approximately five years. I am the only American of African descent serving at University Police Department under Chief Peterson.

I am compelled to share my experiences after reading Chief Peterson’s statements in the October 11, 2019 online issue of the North Coast Journal and the October 14, 2019 online issue of the Times Standard. Chief Peterson claimed that “Anyone who knows me knows I don’t talk politics or religion in a professional setting or during work.”

Chief Peterson’s claim is not true. Chief Peterson claimed that “The racist remarks never happened in the way the officers say.” Chief Peterson’s claim is not true.

I firmly believe that the color of one’s skin, as with all immutable characteristics, is not a predictor of behavior or intelligence or ability, etc. While I have experienced incidents of racism and bigotry during my life, it has been my practice to disregard the ignorance expressed by the person and not carry an angry sentiment with me. I do however clearly remember the times when I have been targeted by racist and bigoted intolerance related to my race and beliefs.

I clearly remember being at a scheduled evaluation meeting with Chief Peterson and Lt Hansen. During that meeting in the Chief’s office, Chief Peterson was extremely upset to the point of using profanity directed at me. The Chief’s frustration and anger stemmed from his opinion that I did not respect Lt Hansen, that I created division at the Department and that I fail as a leader because I am not a “follower.” At the end of the meeting, Lt Hansen stated to me, “We’re not friends and we never will be, admit it.” I agreed with her statement. Chief Peterson followed with, “John you know you’re obligated to work as a slave unto his master.”

At the beginning of my next shift Chief Peterson approached me in the hallway outside the dispatch center and stated, in reference to the slavery comment he made in our meeting, “John I can say that because we both read the Bible.” I was speechless and walked away without responding to the Chief.

Over time Chief Peterson has made additional derogatory statements to me such as, “John you’re like dealing with the North verses the South,” and he excuses himself with follow up statements such as, “I’m just trying to find analogies that work with you.”

Chief Peterson has become more emboldened over the past four years, and moved from making private remarks in our meetings, to demonstrating obvious displays of racism and contempt towards me in whatever audience is available. What once only occurred behind closed doors, has now progressed to belittling statements in department meetings, and to outright derogatory statements at sergeant’s meetings.

Any claim that Chief Peterson’s analogies, historical quotes, nuances or his intent were misinterpreted by me or other officers is insulting and does not excuse the impact or justify Chief Peterson’s actions.

John Packer

Full Statement from Vice President for Administration and Finance Douglas Dawes:

As communicated to the campus community in October, the University has retained the OIR Group (Office of Independent Review) to review the allegations and complaints against Chief Peterson.

The OIR is an independent and respected law enforcement assessment firm. The University has been working with the OIR by providing information the firm needs to conduct a thorough and rigorous investigation. Out of respect for the process, which could take several months, I have asked Chief Peterson not to comment further until the investigation has concluded.

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