A Petersburg police officer was fired from the department after posting an offensive social media post. The post appeared to be supportive of Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany, but the former officer says it was taken out of context.
The Juneau Empire newspaper broke the story about Johnny Duane Pickle on Jan. 7. The 43-year-old started work as an officer with the Petersburg Police Department at the end of last June. He was paid just over $30 per hour.
The Empire story showed a Facebook post made under the account of J.D. Pickle. The post included a photo of Pickle’s son wearing a Hitler mustache, standing straight, and making a Nazi salute. It was accompanied by the comment, “Just showed this to my son. He said that would be his dream come true. Got to raise them riech.”
In an interview with KFSK’s Angela Denning, Pickle said the post was taken out of context and was a comment responding to a friend. He said the image was of his son playing out his favorite movie with his cousins. The film, Jojo Rabbit, is a modern comedy about Nazi Germany.
Pickle: If you haven’t watched it, it’s pretty entertaining and it’s got kids fighting in the war. And they were just one little boy was Captain America, and he was part of the Jojo Rabbit army.
Denning: And the comment says, “Raise them reich.”
Pickle: Yeah, there’s absolutely no harm meant behind it.
Denning: Okay, but when you combine the Nazi solute with the comment, “raise them reich…”
Pickle: I understand how that — that was perceived. Looking back on it, it didn’t look good.
Pickle was raised in Virginia and worked there as an officer for a few years before coming to Petersburg. He says the borough fired him after talking to him once during an investigation.
A brief statement from the borough’s clerk and Human Resources Director Debbie Thompson said a complaint about Pickle was posted on the borough’s Facebook page on Dec. 12. Pickle was placed on administrative leave while the police department conducted an internal investigation.
The statement said that the borough doesn’t comment on personnel investigations, however, it confirmed that Pickle was no longer employed by the borough as of Jan. 3. Pickle was still in the probationary period of his employment.
Mayor Mark Jensen declined comment, calling it “an administrative issue.” Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht declined to answer any further questions. Police Chief Jim Kerr did not respond to calls from KFSK.
Pickle says he didn’t mean to offend anyone with his post and said the Holocaust was horrible.
“Nothing malicious was meant behind it,” he said. “When they told me it was antisemetic remarks, I had an idea what that was, but to get the true meaning, I actually Googled it. I was like…’Oh, I can…yeah.’ I see why it raised such a stink and I regret ever posting that because of what has resulted from it.”
Miri Cypers is the Pacific Northwest Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that works to fight hate and promote civil rights. She calls the post “disturbing.”
“Because trust in law enforcement is so important,” Cypers said. “And I think that the actions that he took displayed a true lack of judgment and in a time where hate is rising and antisemitism is rising, these kinds of behaviors can really create a barrier for people being able to trust law enforcement and building stronger relationships with the community.”
Cypers is grateful the department and police chief acted quickly. She says the rise of hate and extremism is becoming more common in society and in social media in general, but she doesn’t see it as a widespread phenomenon in law enforcement.
Pickle says he plans to stay in Petersburg and is currently looking for another job.
Joe Viechnicki contributed to this story.