A police officer in Social Circle, Georgia, has been fired after urging a teenager to fight him during a traffic stop, as seen in a dashcam video.
Records show that in 2014, the same officer was disciplined for allegedly threatening to “blow up” a high school.
James Sanders, formerly of the Social Circle Police Department, was relieved of duty Thursday after footage emerged of the Nov. 23 traffic stop, the town’s police chief confirmed.
In the video, Sanders, an eight-year veteran of the force, can be heard delivering a profane tirade to a teenager after someone in the young man’s vehicle allegedly yelled “Fuck the police,” according to an incident report obtained by The Huffington Post.
Social Circle police Chief Tyrone Oliver, speaking to Fox 5 News, said Sanders appeared to follow the teenagers’ vehicle after hearing the derogatory remark as he participated in another traffic stop.
Sanders claimed that he pulled the teens over for failure to maintain their lane. But video taken from his vehicle shows that it was only after Sanders sped up behind the teens’ vehicle that the teens’ car touched the white line, Oliver told the local Atlanta TV station.
Once the teens are out of their vehicle, Sanders can be heard threatening to jail them and search them for marijuana.
“If you want to fuck the police, I’m right here,” he tells one teenager. “I’m giving you every opportunity to fuck me up. Come on.”
He also offered to show the passengers “how big of an asshole police can be,” according to the incident report.
"If you want to f**k the police, I’m right here. I’m giving you every opportunity to f**k me up. Come on.” Former Social Circle police Officer James Sanders
An anonymous caller alerted the town’s police chief to Sanders’ behavior, records show.
According to disciplinary records obtained by HuffPost, Sanders has been accused of threatening members of the public before.
In 2014, he was written up after allegedly threatening to send anthrax to the staff of a local high school, use a Taser on a school administrator and blow up their building, The Walton Tribune first reported.
He allegedly made these threats after the Social Circle High School’s staff expressed dissatisfaction with Sanders’ paid security service during a football game.
According to an email sent by a school administrator, Sanders allegedly made comments to a bookkeeper and a receptionist “regarding blowing up the school, using a taser on [the administrator], and mailing anthrax to the school.” He allegedly made these threats in the school’s front office in front of parents and students.
The administrator told police at the time that she did not believe Sanders “intended to actually threaten her or the other individuals and that the comments were most probably made in jest.”
Despite that, she called Sanders’ comments inappropriate, adding that they left her and other staff members concerned about “whether or not he should be on the SCHS campus.”
Sanders was subsequently transferred to the evening shift to “minimize” his contact with the school, and was prohibited from setting foot on the school’s campus unless there was an emergency situation, records show.
Requests for comment from the high school and principal were not returned Monday.
Oliver, who was named the town’s police chief in January, told HuffPost that he couldn’t comment on how the police chief at the time handled the situation. He suggested that Sanders might have escaped a more serious punishment because of ambiguity over whether his hostile remarks were simply jokes.
“It was still concerning enough for the principal to file a complaint with the police chief then,” Oliver told HuffPost. “Even if it’s playing, or not, you don’t do anything like that.”
"Even if it’s playing, or not, you don’t do anything like that.” Social Circle police Chief Tyrone Oliver
Oliver said Sanders’ latest misconduct was grounds enough for his termination.
“We hold our officers to a higher standard and this type of behavior will not be tolerated here,” he said regarding the Nov. 23 traffic stop.
Oliver added that to be an officer, a person needs to have “tough skin and let things roll off their back.”
Sanders, who declined to comment to HuffPost on Monday, told CBS 46 that he is appealing his termination.
A Change.org petition for his reinstatement has meanwhile collected more than 270 signatures as of Monday evening. The petition claims Sanders is being unfairly punished for confronting the teenagers and for asking one of them “to own up to his actions and speak with integrity.”
It describes Sanders as “an individual who solely acts with integrity, protect and serve [sic] his community, and an individual who is an integral part of Social Circle.”
Brittany White, the woman listed as having created the petition, told HuffPost that though Sanders’ comments to the school’s staff were inappropriate, she believes they are being overblown.
“[I]n no instance should anyone joke about such extreme things, however, his words were taken out of context, and were not even reported until several weeks after the incident,” she said in an email.
She further expressed distrust for the town’s police chief who she believes is not holding his officers to equal standards.
“I am questioning the actions of the entire department and city ― are they truly following through with the same level of consequence across all cases?” she said.
This story has been updated to include Brittany White’s comments.