Port Wentworth, Georgia, Police Chief Matt Libby announced his retirement Monday, less than a week after The Daily Signal reported that Police Officer Jacob Kersey had been placed on administrative leave after sharing his views on traditional marriage on Facebook.
WTOC first broke the news of Libby’s retirement Monday afternoon, reporting that the police chief was unable to say why he is retiring.
Libby has worked for the city of Port Wentworth for decades in several different capacities.
“I think the other members of the command staff need to publicly apologize for infringing upon the rights of their officers to freely practice religion and to commit to ensuring something like this never happens again,” Kersey told The Daily Signal in response to the news Monday.
“I don’t think they [the Port Wentworth PD command staff] ever expected this story to get so much attention,” Kersey said. “And I think that is why they thought they could get away with effectively forcing me to resign. I hope this never happens to another officer.”
WTOC initially reported that Libby had resigned. About an hour later, the news outlet changed its reporting to explain Libby was retiring effective Feb. 1.
Following the retirement announcement, Libby told WSAV News 3 that it “was a forced retirement, it is not what I planned.” Libby added that he is “honored to serve the City of Port Wentworth and its citizens for 31 years. I am very thankful for the opportunities the city has provided to me and I wish everyone well.”
The Daily Signal called the Port Wentworth Police Department but was unable to reach anyone for comment.
Kersey, 19, who began working last May at the department, just outside Savannah, says “everything was going well” until the start of the new year.
On Jan. 2, Kersey posted a 20-word message about his view of marriage on Facebook.
“God designed marriage. Marriage refers to Christ and the church,” he wrote, paraphrasing the Apostle Paul’s teaching in the Book of Ephesians. “That’s why there is no such thing as homosexual marriage.”
The next day, Kersey said he received a phone call from his supervisor, who told him that someone had complained about the post. He directed Kersey to take it down.
When Kersey refused, the supervisor warned him that failure to delete the Facebook post on marriage could result in his termination.
Kersey said he then was contacted by Lt. Justin Hardy, who told him that the Port Wentworth Police Department didn’t want to be held liable in a “use of force” situation involving someone in the LGBTQ community. Kersey still refused to delete the post.
The police officer received a phone call later that day from the police department’s Maj. Lee Sherrod, ordering him to come to the office the following morning, Jan. 4, and turn in everything he had that belonged to the city.
Kersey told The Daily Signal that he believed he was going to be terminated.
When he arrived at the police station, the young officer met with Sherrod, Hardy, Capt. Nathan Jentzen, and Libby.
He was told that he was “being placed on administrative leave while the city investigated to see if I could keep my job,” Kersey said. “I was told that I was wise beyond my years, an old soul, and that they brag on me all the time, but that I couldn’t post things like that.”
Kersey said Libby told him that his Facebook post on marriage was the “same thing as saying the N-word and ‘F— all those homosexuals.’” Kersey said his captain told him that his free speech “was limited due to my position as … a police officer.”
After a week of paid administrative leave, Kersey met again with the leadership of the police department. He says he was informed that he no longer was on administrative leave and would not be fired, but that he could not share opinions on social media that could be considered offensive.
Kersey says he was told he could post Scripture verses, but could not work as one of the department’s officers if he continued to share his “interpretation or opinion on scripture if it was deemed offensive.”
His supervisors cited “separation of church and state” as the reason for why he could not post such views, Kersey said.
Kersey said police officials told him that they were developing a new policy to guide officers on what they were and were not allowed to post on social media.
Next, Kersey received a “letter of notification” from Sherrod dated Jan. 13. The letter explained that although Kersey is entitled to his own personal beliefs, he should be “reminded that if any post on any of your social media platforms, or any other statement or action, renders you unable to perform, and to be seen as [unable] to perform, your job in a fair and equitable manner, you could be terminated.”
Four days after the date on the letter, on Jan. 17, Kersey formally resigned from the Port Wentworth Police Department.
“I decided to resign … because I just didn’t think it wise to go back and play their game,” Kersey told The Daily Signal, adding that “the way things went down, I didn’t feel as if my command really had my back.”
Editor’s note: The original version of the WTOC report stated that Libby resigned, but the outlet updated its report to say he “retired.” This article has been updated to reflect the change.
This piece was also updated after publication to include Libby’s comment on his retirement first reported by WSAV News 3.
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