YORK COUNTY, Va. (WVEC) -- A sheriff's deputy's choice to appear in blackface as part of a Halloween costume created an uproar after pictures of the deputy surfaced on Facebook.
The York-James City-Williamsburg Branch of the NAACP said in a news release it was "appalled" by the photographs which show Deputy Jean Browning dressed as Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. Browning poses with her boyfriend who is wearing a costume of President Donald Trump.
Democrat Wilson and the president engaged in a back-and-forth after a call Trump placed to the widow of a service member who was killed.
The release from the NAACP said that during a meeting with York County officials on November 6 to address its concerns, the consensus of those who attended was that Browning's "decision to dress in blackface was wholly inappropriate and completely unacceptable."
Branch leadership said that despite the fact that officials recognized the NAACP's concerns were legitimate it was clear the the York-Poquoson Sheriff's Office would take "no disciplinary action."
The news release added that someone who attended the meeting told the branch's president, Brian J. Smalls, that had the deputy "been wearing a 'noose' or a derogatory sign, disciplinary action would be appropriate."
During a news conference Wednesday night, Sheriff Danny Diggs said he was surprised by the news release the NAACP sent, adding he thought that his office would handle the matter behind closed doors.
He says the deputy is a “kind, caring person who will do anything for anyone.” #13NewsNow— Robert Boyd (@13robertboyd) November 16, 2017
Diggs said Browning and her boyfriend thought it would be funny to dress as Wilson and Trump for Halloween and that the deputy's intent was to portray Wilson not to mock her.
The sheriff said he was reassigning Browning, who worked with York County School Division’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, to a new position.
The Sheriff says the deputy is “very sad and remorseful” over the incident. #13NewsNow— Robert Boyd (@13robertboyd) November 16, 2017
Diggs stated that he planned to take measures regardless of whether the NAACP distributed a news release.
In response to the YJCW NAACP press release, Sheriff J. D. Diggs has the following statement.
In an effort to have full disclosure about the events that took place and my efforts and thought process, I offer the following:
A deputy appeared in a Halloween costume depicting Congresswoman Wilson as a well-dressed person wearing the Congresswoman’s signature red hat. She did not mock her or make any attempt to degrade her. Deputy Browning’s intent was simply to portray Wilson as a political celebrity as Browning’s boyfriend was in a costume portraying Donald Trump. The combined intent of the couple was to convey the message of how funny it would be for two political figures that were at odds with each other to go to a party together. There was no intent to either mock or degrade either Congresswoman Wilson or President Trump, or for that matter to even make any kind of political statement.
At a November 6 meeting with the NAACP, they expressed their concerns that some individuals or groups may have been offended by Deputy Browning’s Halloween costume depicting herself as Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. I perceived that meeting to be the first of several as we would strive to come to a solution that would further the needs of both organizations and help gain a better mutual understanding of our positions. I then followed up with a phone call to Branch President Brian Smalls on the following Wednesday evening. During that conversation I tried to be sure that there were no misconceptions about anything that either of us has said during the meeting. I further asked for input from the NAACP about possible remedies or solutions to the problem as none were discussed during the initial meeting. He told me that the committee would be meeting the next week. Today, I was quite surprised to have been made aware of a press release as I anticipated that there would be more meaningful open dialog regarding this matter. I had offered to discuss the possibility of sensitivity training with input from the NAACP and I had already instructed my staff to search for additional training.
Between our meeting and the phone conversation, I felt that it was understood that I agreed that some type of corrective action would be taken, but that action would be a personnel matter and was not a matter that could be discussed because of privacy issues. I did not hear back from the NAACP until 4:22 pm today when I was notified by email that they were putting out a press release. I am disappointed that another meeting was not scheduled to allow us to meet again in an effort to resolve this issue. I take situations like this seriously as they can impact the relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and the community.
Next, in determining what type of corrective action is to be taken, I must look at the totality of the circumstances, the history of the individual involved, what the various types of corrective actions that might be necessary or available, and the impact on how the community perceives the Sheriff’s Office.
Browning has been a deputy for 20-years and a D.A.R.E. Officer for 10-years with 9 Letters of Commendation. She has never been accused of any type of racial transgression and is known as a kind and caring person who would do anything for anyone.
I must now look at the degree of seriousness of the alleged offense, the intent of person involved, the history of the person, our relationship with the community, the impact on the community as a whole, and the proper remedy to the situation.
Based on all of the circumstances and the need for the community to realize that the Sheriff’s Office takes race relations seriously, I have decided that it would be in the best interest for all concerned to reassign this deputy to another position within the Sheriff’s Office.