Firing was a necessary action

This week’s firing of a Sampson County Sheriff’s deputy over online comments he made about a fatal Sunday morning brawl at Lakewood Country Club was a necessary action brought on by an unwise choice.

Deputy Charles Patrick Foreman should have thought before he let his fingers do the walking across the keyboard earlier this week, responding in a derogatory manner to a Facebook post about the LCC melee.

“They want (sic) be getting there (sic) deposit back,” a Facebook user noted. “It don’t matter,” Foreman responded. “It was paid for on EBT.”

EBT or electronic benefit transfer, is a system that allows state welfare departments to issue federal food assistance through Food and Nutrition Services to eligible low income families via magnetically encoded payment card — EBT cards.

The perception one gleans from Foreman’s comment leans toward a racially charged remark that at best was insensitive and at its worst could be seen as divisive.

It was clearly a poor decision made poorer still by the choice of terminology chosen, words that were broadcast to a wide array of Facebook users and then spread by word of mouth to dozens upon dozens in Sampson County, many who have called the newspaper asking if we had seen the post.

We had seen it and we were appalled.

Social media has its place in today’s society. We even use it, posting breaking news and teasers about upcoming stories on our page in an effort to draw folks to both our newspaper and our website. But you won’t find us posting personal comments or responding to heated remarks, not on the paper’s Facebook page and not from the personal Facebook page of any staff member here. We reserve our opinions for the editorial page of the newspaper and that same section of our website.

We believe off-handed, rude, divisive and unprofessional comments are just not wise, particularly for community leaders and public servants whose words and actions are often held to a higher standard.

While we are tremendous supporters of everyone’s First Amendment rights, we believe just as strongly in using a heaping helping of common sense, thinking before we knee-jerk react to anything. In our estimation, the problem isn’t that the deputy commented on the post, it’s the way in which he chose to respond.

When you are a public servant with a very visible job, spouting off what amounts to ridiculous social fodder makes the person look bad as well as the agency or institution for which that person is affiliated.

In this case, a deputy representing the Sheriff’s Department using such electric words sheds a bad light on the deputy, his job and the department for which he works.

That Sheriff Jimmy Thornton refused to tolerate that and acted accordingly is commendable.

“I do not condone or tolerate any behavior on the part of my employees that brings the integrity of the Sheriff’s Office into question,” Thornton said in Wednesday’s edition of The Sampson Independent.

Foreman’s comment did just that, casting a bad light on the Sheriff’s Department, those who work for the agency and the county itself. It wasn’t just about him or his comment any more. When you wear the uniform of a deputy you are, by virtue of the job, representing that department. Your words become their words. And the message Foreman delivered was a poor reflection on everyone involved.

We are sorry Foreman made such an unwise decision that cost him his job, but that’s the consequence of a poor decision. Thornton, in our estimation, had little choice but to do what he did, sending a clear message that others would do well to heed.