Protesters Call for Firing of Police Detective for Alleged Racial Slurs
Last updated 6/3/2020 at 1:24pm
About 125 peaceful protesters gathered Sunday afternoon at the Lake Wales Police Department, but unlike groups around the country their issue was not the killing of a black man by a white Minneapolis police officer. Instead, they were calling for racial justice at the local level and demanding the firing of a Lake Wales police detective, who ironically was named 2019 Officer of the Year.
The Poor and Minority Justice Association, a Winter Haven-based civil rights group, issued the call and passed out signs calling for the ouster of Detective Travis Worley, a five-year department veteran who now serves in the department's Crime Suppression Unit, focusing his efforts on drug investigations and repeat offenders. The PMJA is targeting Worley for alleged racial profiling, using racial slurs, excessive force, harassing and intimidating members of the black community.
PMJA leader Clayton Cowart, a Winter Haven pastor, said the organization got involved because Lake Wales officer Whitney Dukes reported that police officials took no action when she reported that Worley had called a suspect a "nigger" while he was arresting him. Cowart said Police Chief Chris Velasquez did not return his phone calls and the issue festered for a full year. Cowart said he was told the allegation could not be investigated because Dukes, a black officer, was away on military duty.
Velasquez and Worley could not be reached for comment. Deputy Chief Troy Schulze said officials are aware of the allegation and there is an active investigation.
"Police Officer Worley needs to be terminated for the use of racial slurs against people here. We're going to stand up and fight for what is right," said Pastor Eli Porter, a PMJA leader who came from Georgia for the protest.
Porter said bad officers are like cockroaches who scramble when the lights are turned on. Several people at the protest said while Worley needed to be fired they were upset that other officers knew of his behavior and didn't object.
The majority of the protestors came from other parts of Polk County and even as far away as Georgia, but the organizers said they expected the Lake Wales contingent to grow as word spreads and additional protests are scheduled every two weeks. Standing in the hot sun they lined up around police headquarters, loudly chanting "We want justice." While most of the signs called for the ouster of Worley, others included such messages as "Black Lives Matter," "Love Never Fails," "But the Greatest of These is Love," "Rise up and Resist," and "We Want Justice."
The PMJA has been involved in complaints against police officers in Lakeland and Bartow making racial slurs and the group filed suit when they were blocked from using restrooms at the Polk County Courthouse during a protest during business hours.
Porter said the issue was simple: "This officer needs to go. He's calling people niggers."
Lake Wales attorney Sara Jones, who has been advocating for more police training, community policing and body cameras, said people are afraid of retribution if they file formal complaints against police officers. She said the Lincoln Community Development Corporation, which she chairs, will work to spread the word about future protests and continue to gather information about officer complaints. She wore a T-shirt that said: "Respect our Existence or Expect our Resistance."
"We're going to need people in the community who will speak up and tell us what's going on," Cowart said.
Cassandra Ulysses held a sign saying "Fire Worley. Justice for Jamar Hasley," her son. She said while she was on the phone with her son she heard him screaming that Worley was beating him. She claimed Worley has gone after all three of her sons and has harassed her, but while she talked to the police chief about her concerns, she didn't file a formal complaint for fear they would arrest her. "Ever since they hire people like Worley our agency has gone down," she said.
Cowart said Sunday's protest against Worley will likely be the first of many: "We will stay here until he is gone."
NOTE: A gallery of protest photos can be viewed at https://www.lakewalesnews.net/photos