UK police officer who sent 'grossly offensive' George Floyd meme acquitted

21 April 2021, 18:14

Former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of George Floyd's murder on Tuesday
Former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of George Floyd's murder on Tuesday. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

A police officer who sent a "grossly offensive" George Floyd meme to colleagues has been acquitted of a criminal charge.

Sergeant Geraint Jones admitted sharing the image on a WhatsApp group five days after Mr Floyd's death, on 30 May last year.

However, he insisted he did not mean to cause offence by doing so.

Plymouth Magistrates' Court heard the officer, 47, forwarded the meme to eight others, including six serving police officers, after being sent it by a friend.

READ MORE: Minneapolis police practices to be investigated after George Floyd murder verdict

READ MORE: George Floyd death: A timeline of events as Derek Chauvin is found guilty of murder

The meme featured Mr Floyd's arrest in Minneapolis, USA, with a naked image of American man Wardy Joubert III superimposed on it.

Two members of the WhatsApp group replied with laughing emojis, but one member complained about the image, causing the matter to be referred to Devon and Cornwall Police's professional standards department.

Sgt Jones, a custody sergeant in Torquay who had served with the police for 23 years, deleted the meme and apologised for sending it.

He was later charged with sending a grossly offensive image, contrary to the Communications Act 2003, following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

District Judge Jo Matson acquitted Sgt Jones of the charge against him during a hearing at Plymouth Magistrates' Court on Wednesday.

She said: "Although I have found the image to be grossly offensive to the black and minority ethnic community, I find that the prosecution have not proved beyond reasonable doubt the mental element required for a conviction for this offence.

"They have not made me sure it was not intended as a joke by Mr Jones."

Sgt Jones previously stood trial at the court on 19 March.

The trial heard he sent the meme to a WhatsApp group named "work social" just before 8pm on 30 May last year.

The image of Wardy Joubert III was superimposed over former officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted on Tuesday of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Giving evidence during his trial, Sgt Jones said it "never even entered my mind" that the image might cause gross offence to anyone.

"Maybe I was after a cheap laugh or trying to raise a smile. I didn't think about it deeply and I didn't look at the image in detail," he told the court.

The judge described Sgt Jones as a "very honest and open witness" during the case and found he had "clear regret" for sending the meme.

"I accept what Mr Jones tells me that, at that time, Mr Jones believed he was sending something as a joke - it clearly was not a joke and in retrospect he realises it certainly was not and that it was grossly offensive - but I am considering what was going on in his mind at the time," she said.

She added that Sgt Jones had previously seen and forwarded other memes featuring Mr Joubert, including possibly to some members of the WhatsApp group.