FORT MYERS, Fla .– A Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputy was fired after telling an inmate he looked like George Floyd and asking him to say “I can’t breathe,” the words Floyd said. uttered before dying below the knee of a Minneapolis cop in 2020.
Internal affairs reports released on Wednesday showed nominations being withdrawn for Deputy First Class Rodney Payne for Floyd’s comments. Payne’s dismissal took place on August 26.
The allegations against Payne included two allegations of improper conduct in July 2021 while working in the Correctional Service of the Central Facility’s Community Programs Unit.
An internal affairs investigation revealed that Payne pointed out to a specific inmate that he looked like George Floyd and asked him to say “I can’t breathe.”
Payne made the comment in the presence of his immediate supervisor.
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Payne’s comments alluded to Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died on Memorial Day 2020 after a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes trying to stop him. A teenager filmed the incident on camera.
In May, a federal grand jury indicted Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao in the case, nearly a year after the incident that sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and the systemic racism.
Floyd, who was handcuffed and lying down, repeated “I can’t breathe” repeatedly as Kueng and Lane helped hold him down and Thao pushed passers-by away. In June, Chauvin was sentenced to 270 months, or 22 and a half years, in prison for the murder of Floyd.
The Sheriff’s Office investigation found that Payne’s supervisor immediately asked the deputy to stop the comments, saying it was inappropriate. Several inmates also heard the remark and one filed an email complaint, he said, because the targeted inmate was likely not to complain for fear of reprisal.
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Asked during the investigation of the reason for his comment, Payne said it was his type of humor and later said, in hindsight, that his remarks were callous.
Asked by another supervisor in the sheriff’s office if his remarks could have stirred up a riot among inmates, Payne replied “yes, maybe”.
Payne also replied “yes” when asked if he thought he had violated the policy on the two allegations of improper conduct.
Follow Michael Braun on Twitter: @MichaelBraunNP