LA MARQUE — A fire department captain and peace officer who used a personal social media account to share an altered image depicting President Barack Obama with a noose around his neck has been terminated from the department, Fire Chief Gerald Grimm said Thursday.
An investigation also found that Alfred Decker last week directed that a fire-ravaged building be demolished before its owner could recover property from inside, Grimm said.
Decker showed a “wanton disregard” for the property owner’s rights, and removed a safe from the scene of the fire before returning it several hours later, according to the termination notice issued to the longtime fire department employee.
A hearing Wednesday found that Decker’s activity online and in the line of duty displayed incompetence, a lack of good moral character and discourtesy to the public, according to the termination notice.
“Captain Decker’s actions are demonstrable of a pattern and practice of appalling, despicable and unconscionable conduct by a public servant in uniform whose duty it is to protect and serve the very public that he exhibits obvious disdain for, and unbridled resentment toward,” the notice states.
Decker was placed on administrative leave Jan. 30 after residents complained about posts on his Facebook account that used vulgar language to demean female elected officials and referred to his work as an officer.
Gregory Cagle, an attorney for the Texas Municipal Police Association who represented Decker at the hearing, did not return phone messages left at his office Thursday.
Decker has denied any misconduct or wrongdoing and did not express remorse during the hearing, according to the termination notice.
Decker, a licensed peace officer, removed a safe from the site of the early morning fire Jan. 30 at an antique resale shop at 505 Vauthier St. in La Marque, the investigation found. He suspected the safe was connected to a previous criminal investigation involving the owner of the property, Grimm said.
He acknowledged at the hearing Wednesday “that the fire investigation at that point did not support nefarious or criminal conduct, but rather was suggestive of an electrical malfunction indicative of an investigation not focused on a possible crime,” according to the termination notice.
Decker was part of a task force that included the Drug Enforcement Agency and Friends-wood Police Department, which previously uncovered a large sum of money at the property owner’s home, which is beside the store that burned down.
He intended to have the safe opened by a Friendswood police detective, but returned the safe and its contents several hours later after being told that the previous investigation had been closed, Grimm said.
Decker directed the building be torn down without allowing the owner to seek an alternate means of demolition and without allowing the owner to recover salvageable items from inside the store, Grimm said.
Decker, who has deleted his Facebook account, identified himself as an employee of the La Marque Fire Department on the online page. His account was unsecured and publicly viewable.
On Jan. 3, Decker shared an altered image originally posted on a page titled “The Citizen Anonymous.” The photo showed President Barack Obama’s face superimposed on a man with a noose around his neck and a caption reading, “The making of a National Holiday.”
Posting the image demonstrates “apparent harbored racism and prejudice toward African Americans,” according to the notice of termination.
Decker said the image was originally posted on a page for veterans, according to the notice.
The hearing also determined that Decker’s profanity-laced posts, including one that referred dismissively to La Marque residents, constitute “conduct prejudicial to good order.”
In 2008, Decker made news when he ticketed a woman at the Wal-Mart in La Marque after she used profanity in the store’s sporting goods section.
She reportedly continued swearing after being approached by Decker, who was in uniform at the time and issued the woman a citation for disorderly conduct, which covers the use of profane or vulgar language in a public space.
A La Marque police officer who was also placed on administrative leave last week for using vulgarity in an online post referring to his line of work will remain employed with the police department, Chief Randall Aragon said Thursday.
The department conducted its investigation and has taken undisclosed administrative action against Officer Domingo Montanez, Aragon said.
Decker’s termination was effective immediately. His base salary with the fire department was about $63,000, Grimm said.