A Coconut Creek Police officer who made a "disparaging" Facebook comment about hoping "some old lady loses control of her car" as Parkland survivors held a "die-in" at Publix has been suspended, the city's police chief announced Tuesday.
Brian Valenti, a K-9 officer who has been with the department for 23 years, has been suspended for five days without pay, Chief Butch Arenal said in a statement.
The incident began with Friday's demonstration when students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, led by senior David Hogg, staged a "die-in" to protest the supermarket's support for Florida gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, who is an NRA supporter.
Valenti commented on a post about Hogg and the protest on the Coral Springs-Parkland Breaking News Facebook page "Hope some old lady loses control of her car in that lot. Jus saying..."
Arenal said Valenti took down the post and expressed remorse. In addition to the suspension, Valenti will be required to attend sensitivity training.
"The poor judgment of one employee in one instance should not reflect on our organization as a whole," Arenal's statement read, in part. "As Chief of Police, I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by Officer Valenti’s post."
Arenal said he took into account Valenti's "exemplary service record" and "deep regret" in making the post.
"If I or any member of the City of Coconut Creek had any reason to believe that Officer Valenti’s comment was truly a threat against the safety and well-being of another individual, his employment would be terminated," Arenal said. "We pride ourselves on working together with our community to make a difference. While one of our officers clearly missed the mark in this particular situation, rest assured that the Coconut Creek Police Department will work tirelessly to maintain a level of service to our residents and neighbors that not only meets their expectations, but exceeds them."
Arenal said Valenti has requested to reach out to organizers of the protest to offer his apology.
“I respect his apology for that. I obviously wish he that never said something like that because I think police officers are meant to serve their communities and protect them at the same time," Hogg said Tuesday. "I don't think that police officers are supposed to spread hate and violence, the very hate and violence that they're trying to prevent."
Rod Skirvin, with the Broward police union, said Valenti is distraught over the incident.
"He feels terrible for how this is portraying him but I think at the end of the day we need to look at his body of work," Skirvin said.