A police chief in Michigan is being investigated for a series of tweets that called protesters "barbarians" and "bottom feeders."
Robert J. Shelide has been the chief of police in Shelby Township, an affluent Detroit suburb of more than 80,000 people, for five years. He was honored as the 2019 Administrator of the Year by the Police Officers Association of Michigan.
But he also appears to have been behind the Twitter account @sheepdawg711, which has posted a series of inflammatory comments about the civil unrest sweeping the US in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody.
"Trump threatening to deploy the military," a tweet posted by @sheepdawg711 stated. "I have a better idea: unleash the real cops and let them take care of these barbarians. I promise it will be over in 24 hours. Cops are crippled by politicians and the media."
"I would hit them with tear gas and water cannons. Rubber bullets," the account posted in response to an image of protesters blocking a motorway. "They have no right to be on the freeway."
"Wild savages. I wish to God I would have been there. Body bags for these vicious subhumans," the account added in response to a video of suspects being sought in Rochester, New York, for assaulting a store owner. "Oh, on another note, I dare you to try and drag me out of my vehicle."
Screenshots of the tweets from the locked account were first shared by Dan Lippitt, a photojournalist turned commercial photographer, who has been asking his Facebook followers to send him images of people sharing racists memes or comments online. The Detroit Metro Times first reported on Lippitt's post.
Lippitt told BuzzFeed News a source sent him the images of the tweets, which he said he verified as belonging to Shelide before posting them to his page.
"I was contacted by a person who showed me a message that verified that it was who they were saying it was and then I found a second verification and that’s when I was comfortable with posting it," he said.
A May 7 tweet from the official Shelby Township Police Department account responded to a tweet from @sheepdawg711 and called them "Boss."
But there was even stronger evidence that the account belonged to Shelide. Before the account was deleted on Thursday it featured the name "Bobby S" and a photo of Jack Nicholson taken from The Shining. But a Google cache version of the account shows that in early May it used the name Robert J Shelide.
In addition, the pinned tweet of the account on the cached page was from May 23, 2019, and read, "The Police Officers Association of Michigan presented me with the '2019 Administrator of the Year' award at the Amway Grand Hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan."
Among the other tweets shared by the account in early May when it still appeared to be public was extensive criticism of the coronavirus lockdown measures in Michigan.
"This is what happened in Germany back in the 30's. People sat back docile while the Nazi's took over. They reported each other," one tweet stated. "We have lost our freedom at the hands of incompetence and evil people who know nothing about our well being. I want my freedom back!!!!!"
Sometime between May 3 and this week, the account appears to have been made private as the focus turned to the national protests.
"This makes me want to vomit," @sheepdawg711 posted on Wednesday about a tweet showing members of the National Guard taking a knee in solidarity with protesters. "Get ready for communism!"
"We have lost the country to bottom feeders, savages, and weak anarchists," the account added.
In another tweet about officers kneeling, @sheepdawg711 posted that this was "shameful and embarrassing to thr [sic] real police."
Shelide, who has worked as a police officer for 34 years, did not respond to a request for comment sent to his email address.
In a tweet on Friday after Lippitt's Facebook post went viral, the Shelby Township Police Department said it had been made aware of "some recent posts being attributed to our Chief."
"The Township is looking into it now. Please have patience with us while we find out what is happening," the department said.
Requests for comment from Township Director of Community Relations Brad Bates and the Police Officers Association of Michigan were not immediately returned.
The investigation comes at a time in the US where the behavior of police, even on social media, is under increased scrutiny. A Denver police officer was fired on Tuesday after he posted a picture of himself and colleagues wearing full riot gear on Instagram with the caption "Let's start a riot."
Last year, BuzzFeed News and Injustice Watch wrote about a review of the Facebook accounts of thousands of police officers around the US that found officers endorsing violence against Muslims, women, and criminal defendants.
Lippitt said he had no political agenda in exposing the tweets or others' racist comments online.
"I just want people to be nice," he told BuzzFeed News. "It’s not that hard."