Originally posted by Cleveland Jewish News
East Cleveland Police Chief Brian Gerhard will be suspended amid an internal investigation surrounding leaked text messages from 2019 to 2022 containing antisemitic, pro-Nazi, racist and homophobic memes.
Gerhard is out on vacation until Jan. 2, 2024, and his suspension will begin once he returns, East Cleveland Mayor Brandon King told the Cleveland Jewish News Dec. 22.
“We have already talked to our legal counsel about starting an investigation,” King said. “... We have a zero-tolerance policy for this and we will deal with it.”
The messages appearing to be sent by the chief were leaked to the public through a news release by attorneys Allison Hibbard, Kimberly Kendall Corral and Gabrielle Ploplis, who have been representing police officer clients in the East Cleveland force for bribery. Two former police officers were convicted in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge on Dec. 20.
The messages appear to have been sent by Gerhard and contain references to Hitler and racial slurs. In one message, Gerhard allegedly tells a colleague whose name is redacted that they would “look good” wearing a Nazi helmet out on patrol. In another, he sends a meme about gas chambers being a method of “Jews emigrating.” He also allegedly sent a meme that contained a statement attributed to Klaus Barbie, referencing a Nazi soldier.
Another meme uses a racist slur multiple times to refer to Black people, and depicts a Black person’s head on a SpongeBob SquarePants character.
Additionally, one image read: “If I think of all those homosexuals in Germany today, I think I’d hand my German passport back, if I had one.”
Other memes shared include the “happy merchant” antisemitic image of a man with exaggerated stereotypically Jewish features saying “Mfw it’s Thursday. I can just smell the shekels coming” – an image which is included in the Anti-Defamation League’s hate symbols guide that says the meme is “popularized by the alt-right.” Another meme says “American presidents are slaves of the Jews” and uses an antisemitic slur to refer to Jewish people.
The CJN is not showing images that contain racial slurs.
At the time of Gerhard’s promotion to police chief last year, King was not aware of the messages, he said.
“I’m finding out about it as many others are. I believe it was eight this morning I was made aware of this,” King said Dec. 22. “I still have not physically seen any of the messages.”
Corral, the defense attorney of Law Office of Kimberly Kendall Corral in Cleveland, was made aware of the messages from a comment made by an officer after Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael C. O’Malley made a statement about “leaving the police department in good hands,” she said. The officer claimed that “everyone knows he (Gerhard) is a Nazi,” Corral said.
Corral then sent a message to other officers on the force and began to receive screenshots of the messages they allegedly received from Gerhard.
“Within five minutes, I began to receive those messages that he had sent to other people,” she told the CJN on Dec. 22.
She learned of the messages late on the evening of Dec. 20, she said. She wanted to release the information as quickly as possible because she was “disgusted and appalled” and it “weighed really heavy” on her that a community with a large minority population was being policed by someone who would say these things, she said.
She confirmed the information through her sources, who “received the messages directly from Chief Gerhard,” Corral said.
Gerhard was promoted to police chief in the October 2022, after multiple police officers were suspended due to an investigation of nine other police officers. He has been a member of the force since 1995.
Multiple attempts by the CJN to reach Gerhard were unsuccessful as of Dec. 22. When the CJN contacted the police department on Dec. 22, it was told Gerhard was on vacation. However, he provided a statement to News 5 Cleveland that did not deny the messages existed.
“The ridiculous and unwarranted attack on my character by the attorney’s representing former East Cleveland police officers facing charges and convictions in Cuyahoga County Court won’t have an impact on the cases against them,” Gerhard said in a statement to the news station. “The memes involved were simply World War II content sent to my personal cellphone.”
The message sequence indicates the offensive and graphic images were sent from Gerhard’s iPhone.
Gerhard also provided comments to Fox 8 News: "The memes in question were sent by me to the former chief. Being of German heritage we often exchanged WW2 related memes, no ill intent on my part, satirical in nature not intended to offend anyone. What I find most perplexing is at the time he was chief of police, why even save them or wait over three years to mention them? Or better yet, why was I not disciplined by him? Maybe he feels attacking me will help him with his multiple felony indictments. As I stated, no ill will intended to disparage any ethnic group."
The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment.
This is a developing story.