In the wake of a controversy after a deputy shot and killed a dog, the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Department has deactivated its Facebook page.
Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman confirmed to the Star-Herald he had deactivated the department’s Facebook “last week sometime.” Overman had established the Facebook page in 2011.
A Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s deputy had gone to a rural home near Lake Minatare on Monday, July 20, to serve divorce papers to a man, Troy Little. According to law enforcement, Little’s dog, a German Shepherd, came around a northwest corner as the officer knocked on the door of a shop and the dog approached the deputy, baring its teeth, while growling and charging the deputy. The deputy began to retreat, and tell the dog “No” as it approached him.
“When the dog was within a very short distance of the deputy in a full charge, the deputy discharged one round from his handgun into the dog,” Overman said last week in describing the deputy’s use of force as appropriate and lawful.
The shooting gathered attention when Little shared a photo of the deceased dog on social media and a photo of the deputy. The post is no longer available publicly on Facebook.
In response to the post and media inquiries, Overman shared video, cut without the shooting of the dog, on its Facebook page and with the media.
Since Little’s Facebook post and subsequent coverage, Overman said that the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Department, its deputy, the deputy’s family and children, and law enforcement in general were the subject of harassment and threats on the department's Facebook page.
“We had a lot of comments from fake Facebook accounts,” he said. “We were unable to stop it.
“We saw people, or a lot of posts, that were critical,” Overman said. “They have a right to be critical, but when it gets to threats and harassment of an officer or an officer’s family over something, over anything, I don’t have to give them the ability to do that on our page. There are all sorts of Facebook pages where they can do that.”
Overman said many of the comments or harassment came from accounts that he believed to be fake Facebook accounts. He said he made “significant attempts” to block fake profiles, harassment or threats, but didn’t find efforts to curb that activity to be adequate. The department reported fake profiles and comments to Facebook, but didn’t get much response despite Facebook’s community standards that such activity is not allowed on the social media platform.
The threats and harassment don’t seem to be coming from local people, he said, but from others as the story generated reaction.
Though Facebook and social media can be useful tools, he said, he doesn’t believe that eliminating the Facebook page will hamper the department’s ability to reach the public.
“Social media can be a really good thing and we have all seen it can be a bad thing too. We have public email addresses and (people) can communicate with us via email, via phone,” Overman said.
The department has been subject to harassing and threatening emails and phone calls. At times, he said, staff at the department have barely answered the phone before hearing screaming and vulgarities.
“Frankly, some of the phone calls are vile and disgusting,” he said, saying that people have screamed “the worst name that you can imagine” at staff answering the phone.
At some level, he said, threats and harassment to law enforcement can rise to the criminal level.
Through the years that Overman has been sheriff and in law enforcement, he said, he has seen veiled threats and hateful messages on social media. However, he said, it’s never rose to the level that he and his command staff has seen in the last week.
“It strikes me, when you look at what is going on around the country, the response to law enforcement now is unlike anything that we’ve ever seen before, certainly not in my career,” he said.
Asked if the department would reactivate its Facebook page, Overman said it might be possible at some point in the future. He said, “I think that if we could get to a point that people could not publish threats to our officers on the page ... but we made significant attempts to block those things and we were not able to do that.”
Despite the furor, Overman said that he doesn’t question his decision to release the video of the shooting. He said he has heard from dog trainers who agree with the department’s position that the dog had been attacking the deputy and the deputy acted appropriately. People have contacted the department and shared knowledge and experiences.
“Had we not released the video, the criticism would have been overwhelming,” he said. “The interesting thing is, depending on who you are and your point of view, you can see different things.”
The decision to release the video was made after discussion within the department and in consultation with the Scotts Bluff County Attorney’s Office.