Trenton, NJ – A former New Jersey state trooper said he was fired after he made a social media post that advertised the sale of a T-shirt that featured an image of a wanted terrorist cop-killer.
Harris argued that he was advertising the shirt for his cousin’s clothing company, and said he had no idea that one of the nine women featured on the shirt was cop killer Joanne Chesimard, a Black Panther who was the first woman ever put on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Most Wanted Terrorists list.
Chesimard's photo was displayed on the bottom right side of the shirt.
“'Black Excellence' T-shirts available for order...Embrace your heritage, Embrace your culture...” Harris’ Instagram caption read in September of 2016.
Chesimard, a prison escapee who now goes by the name of Assata Shakur, gained notoriety after the 1973 murder of State Trooper Werner Foerster, who was executed with his own duty weapon along the edge of the New Jersey Turnpike, New Jersey Advance Media reported.
With the help of three gunmen, she escaped from prison in 1979, and has been living under political asylum in Cuba since at least 1984.
Over the years, Chesimard became “an inspiration to the radical, left-wing, anti-government black separatist movement,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Aaron Ford said in 2013.
"While living openly and freely in Cuba, she continues to maintain and promote her terrorist ideology. She provides anti-U.S.-government speeches, espousing the Black Liberation Army’s message of revolution and terrorism," Agent Ford said.
The FBI and the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office currently have a combined reward offer of $2 million for information leading to Chesimard’s capture.
Harris’ lawsuit, which was filed in December of 2017, claimed that his superior officers denied his reenlistment based on his perceived endorsement of Chesimard, but that they approved reenlistment for white officers who had DUI and domestic violence charges. Harris is African-American, according to the lawsuit.
According to New Jersey Advance Media, Harris joined the force in 2013. New troopers are subject to a five-year probationary period, at which time they can be denied reenlistment, if a reason to do so is deemed valid.
He also contended that he was targeted by other officers after confidential details of his internal investigation were publicized on social media.
According to State Police Chaplain Bishop Jethro James, information about the case was broadcasted on a private Facebook group operated by retired state troopers, which has more than 1,600 members.
“The junior “trooper”, Nyron Ali Harris # 7399, that posted the Joanne Chesimard shirt for sale will be re-enlisted and is currently detached to the RECRUITING UNIT. Ain’t that great...,” retired Trooper William Ames told the private group in a post. “NO ACTIVE TROOPERS are to post on this post...AVOID the INTERNAL NOW.....Retirees have at it...”
“I would recommend that all retired MEMBERS call or write the COLONEL on this human SH*T STAIN...” Ames concluded in the post.
The lawsuit said “a campaign was commenced on the internet to punish [Harris].”
The former trooper said that at least two of his colleagues, who were also named as defendants in the suit, discriminated against him “because of his race.”
"We feel confident in stating that the NJ State Police is a better organization for removing this poor excuse for a human being," Ames said after the trooper's denial of reenlistment.
Harris’ supporters have urged the acting head of the State Police, Colonel Patrick Callahan, to overturn the decision, and to analyze how internal investigations were being conducted.
"Nyron should be reinstated, offered his job back," Chaplain James said. "But what would really happen to him with that culture being there?"