Canada’s Thunder Bay police have a PR crisis on their hands. It started with a fake press release and snowballed due to the cops’ reaction.
Cops in this town are investigating the murder of Adam Yellowhead, who was found slain in an area where people known to get drunk on mouthwash gather.
Amid the investigation, a detective wrote a fake press release on Sept. 1 intended for his colleagues, but he mistakenly sent it to reporters. The subject line read: “Fresh Mouth Killer Captured!!” According to the Toronto Star
, the “half-written email … included a misspelled joke about ‘Scope’” (spelled “Scpoe”).
It referenced the slaying of Yellowhead and reportedly contained racist overtones.
Seconds after the release went out, police sent a follow-up retracting it.
"It's obviously a very unfortunate situation that doesn't bode well for us, and certainly our apologies [go] to the victim," Police Chief J.P. Levesque told CBC
on Sept. 4.
The victim’s family, as well as members of Yellowhead’s Nishnawbe Aski Nation tribe, were understandably upset, and they lodged a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
The Police Department’s reaction? We’re insulted!
Executive Officer Chris Adams assured the Toronto Star
that the department had launched an internal investigation. He also said the complaint was “insulting.” The mayor of Thunder Bay, meanwhile, compared the “Fresh Mouth Killer” quip to the practice of giving a suspected killer a nickname.
“Police worldwide, for years, have been giving handles to killers, like Jack the Ripper,” he told the Toronto Star
But most of all, police are denying that the fake press release is a “racial issue.”
To which Johnny Yellowhead, chief of Nibinamik First Nation and relative of the victim, said
“Whether the police say this is racial or not, its callous, cold and unprofessional and treats the victim and his family with disrespect. This is not how a police organization should be run.”
Chief Harry Papah, of the Eabametoong First Nation, added: “The distribution of the news release constitutes a denial of our rights to equal treatment.”
In an editorial this week, Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper blasted
the Thunder Bay Police Department, calling the joke press release “grotesque” and questioning the department’s reaction to the incident.
Or, as Stephen Lautens, a columnist for the Calgary Sun
, put it on Twitter
: “Thunder Bay police ‘insulted’ by human rights complaint. Geez—it was just a racist joke sent out as a news release …”
If there’s any good news in all of this, it’s that an alleged suspect has been captured
. Although that news seems to be overshadowed by the police’s bungling of its PR debacle.
(h/t Dominic Ali