Several members of the Springfield City Council on Monday called for the reinstatement of a local police officer whose recent termination has sparked national criticism, while renewing tensions in a city long struggling to rein in its police department.
Florissa Fuentes, a 30-year-old detective in her first year with the department, was fired on June 19 after a controversial social media post made in apparent support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
While some have condemned the post as antipolice, others have quickly moved to support Fuentes, a Latina officer who grew up in the city’s diverse North End neighborhood and joined the police department last July, advancing to the role of detective in less than a year.
“If they’re interested in making strides as it relates to building better relations between the police officers and the community in which they serve, then they will take whatever steps are necessary to rehire this officer,” said Justin Hurst, president of the Springfield City Council.
On Monday, three of Springfield’s 13 city councilors told the Globe they were against the decision to terminate Fuentes.
“I have to say that, on its face, I’m completely against it,” said Marcus J. Williams, vice president of the City Council. “I think that when you look at uniformity around social media policy, for example, we have to treat everyone the same. And I feel that detective Fuentes was not treated the same based on her post.”
In a statement to the Globe on Monday, Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno defended the department’s decision to terminate Fuentes, citing a zero-tolerance social media policy instituted after a Springfield police officer used social media to cheer the death of a young woman who was killed when a man drove into a crowd during a 2017 protest in Charlottesville, Va. The officer was fired after the incident.
“I concur with Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood’s decision to fire probationary Officer Fuentes,” said Sarno. “This behavior will not be tolerated – as was evident in other situations where Commissioners terminated a tenured police officer and a probationary firefighter for harmful posts against peaceful protestors.
“In turn, there cannot be a double standard,” he added. “We must be consistent, whether it’s bringing harm to peaceful protestors and/or harm to our police officers.”
Sarno also said that the post had represented Fuentes’ third disciplinary infraction in less than a year. He didn’t specify what the other infractions were. Clapprood told MassLive last week that the social media posting was Fuentes’ “second issue” during her probationary first year.
Clapprood, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed. Multiple attempts to reach Fuentes were unsuccessful.
The recent controversy began in May, when Fuentes posted a photo of her niece at a Black Lives Matter protest in Atlanta to the social media website Instagram.
In the photo, Fuentes told MassLive, Fuentes’ niece held a sign that read “Shoot The F--- Back,” and a friend of the niece’s held a sign reading, “Who do we call when the murderer wears the badge?”
Soon after posting the photo, Fuentes told MassLive, she began hearing from fellow officers who took offense. Upon realizing that some were interpreting the post as antipolice, she quickly deleted it.
“I was initially confused, but then I realized they thought I was being anticop. I wasn’t,” she told the paper. “I was just supporting my niece’s activism. I had no malicious intent, and I wouldn’t put a target on my own back. I’m out there on the streets every day like everyone else.”
Despite deleting the post, Fuentes was soon written up by a department captain, she said, and was asked to meet the following day with the commissioner. During that meeting, Fuentes told the paper, a union representative suggested she apologize publicly for the post
In a message on Facebook, she said she should’ve considered how the post would be perceived. But the post created additional blowback — “You’re too dangerous or too stupid to safely associate with,” one officer wrote in response to the post, according to the paper. Eventually, Fuentes said, she was given an ultimatum: Resign or be fired.
She chose to be fired, she told MassLive.
The episode is the latest in a series of controversies involving the local police department.
Most recently, the commissioner earlier this year reinstated five officers who were facing criminal charges for allegedly covering up a violent brawl involving off-duty officers in 2015 — only to be forced to pull them from duty once again when the FBI and an assistant state attorney reportedly informed the city that it was illegal for the officers to be back working with guns while under indictment.
Fuentes’ case, meanwhile, has reignited tensions between the police department and the city council, which for years has been attempting to replace the police commissioner position with a multimember police commission, which would take some power out of the hands of a single person.
Hurst, the city council president, called Fuentes’ firing a missed opportunity for a teaching moment.
Adam Gomez, who represents Ward 1, said Fuentes should get her job back. Williams, representing Ward 5, said taking disciplinary action against someone voicing support for the recent protests surrounding police violence against Black people would serve as a deterrent for others speaking out.
“This was a serious misstep,” said Williams. “And it sends a message, I think, to the broader community that if you support the [Black Lives Matter] movement, then you have to deal with the consequences.
“And that’s a very dangerous message to be sending.”
Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.