The controversy surrounding Roanoke police Lt. Derek Farr may have reached its final crescendo at Monday's city council meeting.
Farr was scheduled for a hearing before the Roanoke mayor and city council last Thursday to appeal disciplinary action he received in the wake of a controversial Facebook post he made in June.
That hearing was canceled after Farr and Roanoke Mayor Mike Fisher reached a compromise earlier in the week. But the fallout from that agreement has been anything but clear cut and has left unhappy parties on both sides of the dispute.
Farr was originally placed on paid administrative leave in June while Police Chief Adam Melton and city officials investigated Farr's Facebook post that read, "Protesting? Yea right! More like thugs being thugs. It's kind of hard to get people to believe you're living in fear. Just saying..."
The post was made while riots flared across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. The post resulted in a number of complaints to Melton's office, mostly based on Farr's use of the word "thug" and the racial connotation of the word.
The investigation of Farr resulted in disciplinary action that included a two-week unpaid suspension and reduction in pay and rank, from lieutenant to dispatcher.
Farr appealed that decision and then met with Fisher before his hearing date in an effort to reach a compromise.
According to Farr, the compromise kept the two-week, unpaid suspension intact and included a period of "modified duty" when he returned to work, but he would retain his position and pay as a lieutenant with the Roanoke PD.
"This is what they said. After two weeks I would come back as a lieutenant," Farr said. "I would keep my pay, and [the chief] is going to modify my schedule, my assignment because he's afraid for me. So it was going to be this modified assignment for a little while and then I'd go back to normal. That was my understanding."
However, last Wednesday Farr was told that he was being moved into a non-uniformed position as a jail administrator, but that his pay would remain unchanged from before the incident. Other changes included relocating him to a smaller office and limiting his interaction with other officers.
"Basically it's the same thing that he had at the beginning, being a dispatcher, except that I keep my pay," Farr said. "And the rank is in name only because inside of all of that, inside the specs of it, I don't supervise anybody. Basically the chief created a position of lieutenant pay, and his plan was to put me [working] in the jail for eight hours a day. I was prohibited from riding in a police car, prohibited from talking to officers about things."
It seems that the compromise made Farr's primary accusers unhappy as well.
Delvan Houston, who is the president of the Randolph County chapter of the NAACP, led the initial complaints against Farr in the wake of Farr's original Facebook post. Houston addressed the city council at Monday's meeting and listed a number of requests that - without mentioning Farr by name - seemed to be clearly tied to Farr's case.
Houston asked that the city adjust its policy so that job titles and their pay rates remain uniform throughout the police department. Houston further requested that the city create a public listing of job titles and pay scale.
He mentioned other officers in the Roanoke PD that had received disciplinary demotions that were also accompanied with a reduction in pay, and wondered why there was a lack of uniformity when it came to those types of decisions.
Mayor Mike Fisher stated that he alone decided the disciplinary action against Farr, without the official input of the rest of the city council. Fisher explained that he did so because city employment rules give the mayor sole responsibility over personnel matters, while the council's input and approval are required only in regards to financial decisions pertaining to the city.
This sparked an impassioned line of questioning from Shawanna Boyd, a Roanoke resident who was on the agenda to address the council. Boyd expressed her frustration with the city's disciplinary process and confronted Fisher on why he made the decision he made.
Boyd also did not mention Farr by name, but the context indicated that Farr was the subject of her line of questioning.
Fisher explained that, by law, he could not discuss the details of the case in the public portion of the council meeting and offered to allow Boyd to go into executive session, which she declined.
Farr maintains he had no racial intent behind his original Facebook post.
"I didn't do anything wrong. I used the word 'thug.' Thug means criminal," he said. "I don't know where they spawned this off to mean something racist. Everybody that I spoke to - to include the chief, at the beginning - agreed that it was not racial. But somewhere along the way I guess he flipped on that."
He added, "I've been policing in the same town for 30 years. Everybody knows who I am. I'm not a racist. I've got black people, I've got brown people, I've got white people, every color of the rainbow reaching out to me and telling me how foolish all of this is."
Farr said he wants to rectify the inconsistency between what he understood his job would be when he returned from suspension and what it actually was. To that end he plans to meet with Fisher once more to seek clarification. He said that if a satisfactory resolution is not reached, he will weigh his options, which include retiring from the force.
"I'm going to keep fighting this," Farr said. "I've got an option if I want to I can retire. But I can't leave it like this. I know they think I'm crazy, but I can't let a precedent like this be set. There's 20 other police officers that are at the police department, and if this sticks then what's going to happen the next time?"
Fisher took a moment at Monday's council meeting to thank Houston and Boyd for voicing their concerns.
"If the public does not get involved, we don't know what's going on sometimes," he said. "We need to hear from you."
He also made an impassioned plea for unity within the community.
"I don't claim to be perfect," he said. "Sometimes a mayor's decisions are tough, and we've gone through some of those lately. But I don't want my decisions to come between folks in this city."
He then ended the meeting with a prayer for unity within the city, a prayer that Farr later voiced his full support for.
"The reason I've been a policeman for 30 years is because I love the people in Roanoke, and I don't want to see people hurt anymore," Farr said. "I know that for whatever reason there were some hurt feelings ... I've never been one of those people to separate our community into ethnic groups. It's just our community, Randolph County, Roanoke. We need to heal. It blows my mind to know that this has crept into our community. I never would have dreamed that this would have happened."