The Brooklyn-based Court Officer suspended in June for posting illustrations of former President Barack Obama with a noose around his neck and Secretary Hillary Clinton being taken to the gallows has been fired.
Terri Napolitano, a Sergeant and a 17-year court officer, was terminated last month by Deputy Chief Administrative Judge George Silver.
'A Clear Message'
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said the officer’s Dec. 3 firing was based on a recommendation of the Judicial Hearing Officer who heard evidence during Ms. Napolitano’s disciplinary hearing earlier this year.
“The determination to separate the offending officer from her service sends a clear message, and it underscores our commitment to eliminate racial bias and intolerance from our court system,” Judge DiFiore said in her weekly video address Dec. 28.
The caricatures, accompanied by the title “The True American Dream” and posted alongside a picture of Ms. Napolitano in uniform and over a caption referencing the “NYS Court Officers Ceremonial Unit,” were discovered on the then-Sergeant’s Facebook page June 6.
Judge DiFiore and Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks condemned the messaging on the same day and she was then suspended for 30 days. In a June 6 letter addressed to “Our Court Family,” they called the post “abhorrent,” particularly given that the posting went up at “this critical moment in our history.” They said the “sickening and unpardonable offense” would be “punished appropriately.”
The president of the New York State Court Officers Association, Dennis Quirk, at the time also expressed dismay at the officer’s postings. The union “does not condone the conduct of Sgt Napolitano and her racist Facebook posts. She does not speak for Court Officers,” Mr. Quirk wrote on his own Facebook page.
And while he intimated that her behavior was not isolated, Mr. Quirk said he supported the protests going on at the time: “Enough is enough is enough,” he wrote.
Ms. Napolitano was further vilified by several court officer colleagues, including some who were acquainted or had worked with her, with several saying she was not worthy of the uniform and calling for her immediate termination. At least one said Ms. Napolitano had a history of posting hate-filled, racial posts.
The episode was also cited in an independent review of the state court system’s response to issues of institutional racism begun at about the time of the posting but instigated earlier in the year. “It is apparent from our interviews that this episode peeled the lid off raw emotions about and within the court officer community, particularly in Kings County,” the report by Jeh Johnson, the Office of Court Administration’s Special Adviser on Equal Justice in the Courts, concluded. “A number of interviewees were outspoken in expressing those grievances about the court officer community. Several told us that the post described above is not an isolated incident.
The report, released in October last year, was commissioned by the Chief Judge after she received a letter written on behalf of 42 Brooklyn Criminal Court court officers that cataloged a pattern of racial hostility by NYSCOA rank-and-file members and union officials.
Among the report’s recommendations were that OCA leadership take “a more-robust” stance against racial bias, including by instituting a “zero-tolerance” policy against racist behavior; launching “comprehensive racial bias and cultural-sensitivity training” across the court system; and adopting a social-media policy with “clear guidance and limits...whether in an official or personal capacity.”
In her Dec. 28 video address, Judge DiFiore said the episode is a reminder “of the urgent work that lies ahead of us to implement Secretary Johnson’s recommendations.”
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