Gentry Lane is used to getting insulting messages from strangers. That comes with the territory when you run an activist organization like her Rebel Action Network. But one recent message she got was particularly unhinged — and when she clicked on the sender's profile, she was shocked to see that he was a Miami cop.
"If he were just a regular person, I would have just ignored the message and chalked it up to another troll," says Lane, who lives in Los Angeles. "But he was a police officer."
Lane complained to the Miami Police Department, where internal affairs investigators recently found the sender, veteran Officer David Anderson, guilty of discourtesy. It's not Anderson's only brush with infamy: The officer was once fired from the force after allegedly buying steroids and human growth hormone from a DEA snitch, but later won his job back with the department.
Anderson told investigators he didn't remember sending the message and argued that he left his profile open at home and his girlfriend might have sent it. Though he recently retired from the force, MPD's union chief, Javier Ortiz, argued that Anderson was within his rights to insult the activist.
"While I don't agree with Mr. Anderson's comment, I guess [Lane] only believes in free speech if you're in agreement with her," Ortiz says in an email.
Lane got the odd message two days after Christmas. She says she has no idea how the officer found her, but assumes it was either through a comment thread on an anti-Trump Facebook page or through her organization, which aims to "transform regular citizens into citizen change-makers" and claims 150,000 members nationwide.
Anderson's message is a bizarre mix of insults and rambling speech with a Trump reference thrown in for good measure: "Your one ugly animal," the badly spelled message reads. "Jesus Christ. Mole nose witch ears like a donkey Trump that animal u look pre dinosaur."
Lane says she didn't know what the message meant exactly, but was certain it was insulting. "It was weird and random," Lane says.
When Lane realized the sender was a cop, she called MPD to file a complaint. She didn't know it, but Anderson had a curious history at the department, which had tried to fire him 14 years earlier.
Back in 2002, Anderson — a veteran who'd joined the force in 1988 — got caught in a DEA dragnet when a steroid supplier told federal agents he'd regularly been selling the cop steroids. An IA detective went digging through Anderson's trash cans and found Deca Durabolin and Winstrol, two illegal anabolic steroids. The snitch agreed to set up a buy with the cop. While a wired-up DEA agent watched, Anderson paid $450 at a meeting at Moe's Cantina in Coconut Grove for a human growth hormone kit.
The DEA arrested the cop, who offered to turn snitch himself: "Officer Anderson indicated he was only a little fish," the department notes in court records. "He could identify others within the department abusing steroids."
Anderson was arrested and charged with buying an illegal substance, and was fired from MPD in May 2003. Prosecutors later dropped the charges when he agreed to complete a drug course. He then appealed his firing, arguing that he didn't know what he was buying and that the state couldn't prove he'd actually used the steroids found in his garbage.
After a long legal fight, Anderson was rehired in October 2007. He then sued the city for back pay and benefits; he won a partial victory, getting ten months back pay from an arbitrator.
Lane's complaint went to the force's internal affairs department, which interviewed her, reviewed screenshots of the messages, and then interviewed Anderson. The cop acknowledged the messages came from his profile but insisted he didn't remember sending them. Either way, IA ruled on April 25 that he'd violated the department's policy for discourtesy.
Whether or not the message was rude, Ortiz, the union chief, argues that it wasn't a threat. "I... don't understand why she states the comment is threatening," Ortiz says. "He says she's ugly, nothing about violence."
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City records show that Anderson went on disability in early April due to an injury, and then retired in May soon after getting "formal counseling" over the sustained IA complaint.
Overall, Lane says she's impressed with MPD's response to her complaint.
"They were so professional," Lane says of MDP's investigators. "Police forces represent the people and work for the people. I don't think this officer was a good representative for the city of Miami and he certainly wasn't working for people."