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Norman police officer under investigation for comparing use of facial masks to KKK scene in 'Django Unchained'

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A Norman Police Department squad car sits outside the police department March 31, 2018. 

The Norman Police Department is conducting an internal investigation of an officer’s comparison of the use of facial masks to a scene in a popular movie with racist imagery. 

The Black Wall Street Times first reported on the incident May 18, writing that on May 5, Norman police officer Jacob McDonough replied with screenshots from the movie Django Unchained to an email notifying all officers that custom-printed face masks are available. 

The screenshots depicted a group wearing Ku Klux Klan masks and carrying torches, and captions on the screenshots read “I think we all think the bag was a nice idea. But not pointin’ any fingers, they coulda been done better.” 

According to the Black Wall Street Times article, Lt. Lee McWhorter replied to the email by saying “McDonough, I really hope you didn’t mean that the way it looks because that’s MORE than inappropriate. I’d say this is a fantastic time to stop this email thread and if you have an issue to contact your direct supervisor.” 

McDonough responded with “Sir, I would like to apologize … (for) the (satirical) humor related to the movie. However, I understand and did not mean any disrespect toward anyone at all. Truly, my apologies Sir,” according to the article. 

Norman Police Department Chief Kevin Foster said in a press conference Tuesday morning that McDonough’s response contained “an inappropriate image and reference.” 

The email thread was stopped after a supervisor confronted McDonough about his response about 15 minutes after it was sent, Foster said. When he received the email about 40 minutes after it was sent, he immediately sent it to the police department’s internal affairs department for a follow-up investigation. 

According to the Black Wall Street Times article, a City of Norman employee confirmed on May 15 McDonough’s actions were the subject of an internal investigation. 

Norman has a long-standing history of affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan, and until 2017, one street in the town was named after Edwin DeBarr, a Ku Klux Klan leader and prominent OU professor in the early 1900s. 

That street has since been renamed Deans Row Avenue to honor all OU deans after efforts from OU students and then-Councilwoman Breea Clark, who is now the city’s mayor. 

Clark said in a Facebook post Monday night she is aware of the unfolding investigation of McDonough. 

“Norman prides itself on being the most inclusive community in Oklahoma, and I am confident this matter will be investigated thoroughly and that appropriate corrective action will be taken,” Clark said in the post. 

In the post, Clark said she’s requesting the chairmen of the Norman Citizens Advisory Board convene a special meeting to review the incident and give NPD Chief Foster feedback. She also said that “when it’s safe to do so,” she plans to host a community listening session allowing her to hear resident concerns and focusing on how Normanites can communicate with more cultural sensitivity. 

“I appreciate NPD’s immediate response to this matter, and I want to thank all first responders, city staff and Norman residents for wearing masks as we all continue to do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Clark said in the post. “I am confident that both the actions and conversations that will come from this incident will help to further our mission of building an inclusive community.” 

Foster said in the press conference that the internal affairs department is being very thorough in making sure this was an isolated incident. He said, though, that McDonough is still working at the police department. 

There’s a variety of options for discipline, and a decision will be made on consequences from the incident once the police department and the Norman Citizens Advisory Board evaluate all the circumstances, Foster said. 

Foster said he “was very offended and couldn’t believe an officer had sent that out” after seeing the email. 

He said that sensitivity training will continue as part of the police department’s in-service training, and he thinks the success of previous trainings is apparent by how fast McDonough was called out by coworkers. 

“This is a judgment of one officer … and regardless of what he was thinking,” Foster said, “the inappropriateness of it and how it offends people is still there.” 

Ari Fife is the OU Daily summer editor-in-chief and a sophomore journalism major minoring in international studies and political science. Previously, she served as a senior news reporter and was an SGA beat reporter.

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