A Baton Rouge police officer accused of sending racist text messages resigned Thursday, but NAACP leaders said they still want answers, particularly whether any of the arrests the officer made in the past may have been racially motivated.
Michael Elsbury, who has been with the department for about 15 years, still faces a criminal investigation even though he resigned, said Cpl. Don Coppola, a Baton Rouge Police spokesman.
The allegations surfaced Wednesday when NAACP state President Ernest Johnson said he was shown a series of text messages with racial slurs that purportedly had been sent by Elsbury to a friend outside of the Police Department.
The texts were given to police “by a girl, a friend” of Elsbury’s, Police Chief Carl Dabadie said Thursday night.
Part of the string of texts read:
“I wish someone would pull a Ferguson on them and take them out. I hate looking at those African monkeys at work … I enjoy arresting those thugs with their saggy pants.”
Another part of one of the texts reads: “They are nothing but a bunch of monkeys.”
Dabadie said once the friend turned the cellphone in to police, detectives worked to try to authenticate the text messages and determine whether Elsbury sent them.
“When you dump a phone, that’s a lot of texts to go through,” Dabadie said. “That’s what was taking so long.”
By about 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dabadie said, police had enough information to place Elsbury on administrative leave.
The police chief said he read the text messages in question.
“It was gut-wrenching to believe that someone had that much hate in them, especially a police officer who is out there enforcing the law every day,” Dabadie said. “It made me sick to my stomach.”
The investigation continued Thursday, but by that afternoon, Dabadie said, he was contacted by a union representative who said Elsbury had decided to resign.
“At that point, we couldn’t prove within a shadow of a doubt that he sent those texts, but you can draw your own conclusions,” Dabadie said. “I can only conclude that he thought it was in his best interest to resign.”
Dabadie said the department never asked Elsbury to resign.
“I never even spoke to him,” the chief said.
While he’s well aware that an incident like this can “cast a bad light” on the entire department, he does not believe the kind of racism exhibited in the text messages runs through the department.
“I believe this is an isolated incident that occurred between the officer and this girl,” Dabadie said. “I do not want this to become a direct reflection on our officers. I have 650 officers, and 649 of them work their butts off every day for the city of Baton Rouge.”
But others were still troubled by the text messages.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking to media in Baton Rouge on Thursday night at an unrelated event, called the text messages “beyond frightening” and said every arrest Elsbury has made in his tenure as an officer needs to be reviewed.
“One or two (bad cops) can make the difference between our kids spending an inordinate amount of time in jail,” Sharpton said while stressing that he does not think that most cops are bad people.
Johnson, the NAACP’s state president, called the texts “very disturbing.”
“If those reports are true,” he said, “there’s no place in our community or anywhere in this country for a person upholding the safety of the law to make the kinds of comments that I saw.”
Johnson said he still wants answers about Elsbury’s past police conduct, including whether any of his arrests were racially motivated. Johnson also wanted to know whether the texts reflect the views of anyone else in the department.
“I don’t want this to end with him resigning,” Johnson said. “I think there’s more to it than that.”
Johnson said the organization is inviting Dabadie as well as District Attorney Hillar Moore III to a town hall meeting to be held Tuesday at the Labor Union Hall on Government Street.
The meeting was already scheduled as part of a series of meetings across the state, but Johnson now says the texting will be a key point of discussion and that the issue should be discussed further in public.