June 20th, 2024

Disciplinary sentencing recommends dismissal for ‘MemeGate’ officer

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on November 15, 2022.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

Sentencing for a Lethbridge Police Service officer involved in a 2018 incident where a group chat was created for the creation and distribution of memes deemed to be offensive – which became known at the time as “MemeGate” – was determined on Monday.

During a disciplinary hearing for LPS Sgt. Jason Moulton, and after stating the different reasons for arriving at his decision, Presiding Officer Paul Manuel sentenced Moulton to dismissal from the Lethbridge Police Service.

He started by stating that he had taken into consideration Moulton’s record prior to the events, where he was highly regarded in many areas by his superiors, but also stated the contrast with his actions.

“The irony of the charges does not escape me,” said Manuel.

A private chat group was created by Moulton in WhatsApp under the name “Meme Militia” where texts, memes and gifs were distributed to LPS officers within the group. The communications, which were found to be offensive and against LPS policies, were described as profane, abusive and insulting and targeted the LPS executive, other officers, and society in general.

As a result, five officers were charged with misconduct under the Alberta Police Act and Police Service Regulation in relation to the meme group incident. Moulton is the last officer whose charges have not being fully resolved.

Moulton previously pleaded guilty to two counts of discreditable conduct, two counts of neglect of duty and one count of insubordination. He also pleaded not guilty to one further count of discreditable conduct and was ultimately acquitted of that count.

Presiding Officer Paul Manuel said that even though Moulton pleaded guilty, he has not shown any signs of remorse, apologized to those affected by the events or the public in general, and therefore that was an aggravated factor and contributed to his decision.

“The lack of apology speaks volumes,” said Manuel.

He also stated that the incident could not be considered an isolated event, as it happened over a period of four months. He said Moulton’s actions throughout the chat suggest premeditation based on his deliberate conduct.

Manuel stated that the damage to the reputation of the service will take years to repair, due to the public nature of the events.

He said Moulton’s actions also damaged the careers of those involved as two officers ended their careers by resigning from the force, two more were demoted in rank and therefore reduced in pay and have warnings in their record, which will be there for five years. This in turn makes it difficult for them to advance within the service.

Manuel also stated the fact that as Moulton was the creator and administrator and invited others to join the chat group, this makes his level of culpability higher than others.

He said therefore, the sanction had to be according to the severity of his actions, to send the right message to the rest of the service, and to make sure things like this do not happen again.

He said therefore Moulton was no longer suitable for the sergeant position based on his destructive and disrespectful criticism towards the service, his discriminatory behaviour and the poor example he set for other officers of lower rank.

Manuel said Moulton could be placed on suspension without pay if an appeal was to be made, until such a process takes place.

Moulton is the last officer to be sentenced in regards of the 2018 incident.

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Fired, with pension intact. probably not too hurt.