JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Two weeks into protests against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd, statements made by Johns Creek Police Chief Chris Byers have drawn controversy and led to an internal investigation.
In a post to his personal Facebook page, Byers disavowed the officers involved in Floyd’s death and applauded protests and demands for justice, but said he does not support the Black Lives Matter movement because “it seems to glorify the killing of my brothers and sisters.”
The statement was also critical of unspecified religious leaders for “failing” and “abandoning” law enforcement personnel and their families. The morning of June 8 the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shared a story about Byers’s statements, and the post was shortly taken down.
Johns Creek City Manager Ed Densmore announced June 16 that he had opened an internal investigation into allegations against Byers unrelated to his social media posts.
In accordance with city policy, the chief has been placed on administrative leave pending the completion of this investigation. During this period, Major Roland Castro will lead the department.
The City of Johns Creek released its own official statement saying it stands against all forms of racism and supports peaceful protests.
“With everything that is taking place around the U.S and the world, it’s important that we listen, understand and make thoughtful decisions which will bring about improvements to everyone’s health, safety and quality of life,” Densmore said.
Mayor Mike Bodker acknowledge the potential negative impact of Byers's statements but defended their intent.
“I have known Chris Byers for more than a decade, not just as an officer and now police chief, but also a person of deep faith who cares strongly about all people as well as his fellow police officers,” Bodker stated. “I know his words were not meant to be divisive, but rather to foster a dialogue among these different groups, including Black Lives Matter, to bring about tangible and meaningful change many of us would like to see.”
Byers comments received significant attention on social media, with the city of Johns Creek briefly trending on Twitter for the state of Georgia. Some called for Byers to step down, while others defended Byers’s right to share his opinion or said his statements were sensationalized by the media.
“As a Johns Creek taxpayer, I hope action is taken to replace this man with someone more in-line with our diverse community,” Michael Guest wrote.
“While I think his heart is in the right place, I think he is being ignorant and tone deaf to the Black Lives Matter movement,” Heather Setzer said. “Go to their website and see what they are actually about. Nowhere is violence against the police encouraged, nor has it ever been.”
“This whole thread saddens me,” Camille Brown wrote. “I love living in Johns Creek. My daughter and I participated in the peaceful protests in Johns Creek last Thursday. I was so proud of my Johns Creek Community. That pride has now turned to shame and sadness. He is a leader and his opinions can seep into the department he leads.”
“No one is condoning, nor defending what happens some people at the hands of bad cops; he’s supporting the good cops,” Josh Brandt stated. “He clearly states he finds it very important that he keep the bad cops out of the profession. I’m so tired of people reading only the parts that allow them to show some sort of emotional outrage, rather than absorbing factual information and making a non-emotional judgement.”
State Rep. Angelika Kausche, who represents most of Johns Creek, said she was “stunned” by the chief’s statement.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is rooted in racial justice and police accountability,” she said. “It does not call for law enforcement to be harmed. It does not celebrate the killing of police officers. To suggest it does is to dangerously mislabel the hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans who want to bring about much needed systemic change.”