Orlando, FL – An Orlando police officer was forced to forfeit a month’s worth of overtime pay in lieu of suspension, after he was accused of using "hateful language" during two incidents in 2017.
An arbitration hearing into whether or not the City of Orlando was justified in doling out the sanctions against Officer Robert Schellhorn began on Thursday, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The hearing was held after the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) filed multiple grievances on the officer’s behalf, for what the FOP deemed was excessive discipline, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The first incident occurred in May of 2017, when Officer Schellhorn responded to a report of a fight at the Parliament House nightclub.
The downtown club sits on the shore of Rock Lake, and is described as a “gay bar,” according to the business’s Facebook page.
The rowdy partygoers’ brawl spilled out of the bar and into the street, and Orlando police deployed pepper spray to quell the mayhem, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
“Time to go, savages!” Officer Schellhorn yelled at the crowd, as the officers attempted to break up the mob.
At least two patrons argued with him out on the street, and one threatened to have the officer arrested before a third patron screamed at her to leave the area, bodycam footage showed.
“This is typically Sunday night. It’s just busy,” Officer Schellhorn told another officer, according to the Orlando Sentinel. “All these [expletive] savages that [expletive] come out.”
An internal investigation into the officer’s use of the word “savage” was not initiated until October of 2017, after Officer Schellhorn also used the same word in a series of Facebook posts he made in August of that same year.
One comment had to do with NFL players who were kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality.
“What exactly are the ‘black rights’ these useless savages are standing up for???” Officer Schellhorn wrote in the post.
He also referred to NFL players as “overpaid thugs.”
In another post, Officer Schellhorn referred to Heather Heyer, a counter-protester with an antifa crowd who was killed during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, as “an a--hole killed by another a--hole,” the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Activist T.J. Legacy-Cole filed a complaint with the department regarding Officer Schellhorn’s social media comments, which prompted an internal investigation that ultimately resulted in the officer being suspended for a period of 80 hours.
The same sanction was doled out for the incident at the nightclub, resulting in a total suspension of one month.
Officer Schellhorn opted to forfeit 160 hours of overtime pay in lieu of the suspension, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
During the internal investigation into the nightclub incident, Officer Schellhorn testified that he used the word “savages” to get the crowd’s attention, but that he was unsuccessful.
“They were acting like animals,” he told investigators.
In his discipline recommendation, Orlando Deputy Police Chief Dean DeSchryver noted that the investigators did not determine Officer Schellhorn’s use of the word to be racist, but that he did violate the department’s policy regarding conduct towards the public.
“[Officer Schellhorn] uses the word ‘savage’ to describe people who have a different philosophy than his own, fail to follow direction from someone of authority, or act in a manner he feels is inappropriate,” Chief DeSchryver wrote, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
“Had Ocf. Schellhorn’s statement been heard by the crowd it may not have had a calming effect,” the department opined. “It could possibly have had the opposite effect and enraged the crowd, causing them to turn their anger towards Officer Schellhorn.”
During the arbitration hearing on Thursday, Officer Schellhorn told the board that his comments were not racially motivated, but that he now understands why some people find the word “savage” to be offensive, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
"Believe me, I have now learned that is not the word to use," he said. "But that is the kind of word I use. Instead of calling somebody a dumb-ss or a knucklehead or something along those lines, 'savages' is the word I use."
He explained that his Facebook comments were made after an “emotional buildup” following the fatal shooting of two Kissimmee police officers on Aug. 18, 2017.
Officer Schellhorn was also the first person on scene in January of 2017, when fellow officer Lieutenant Debra Clayton was fatally shot while attempting to arrest double-homicide suspect Markeith Lloyd, WKMG reported.
He performed CPR in an effort to save her, and said he is still haunted by her death.
"That all came out in this response and, regrettably, I used unbelievably hateful language," Officer Schellhorn testified, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
During the hearing, Officer Schellhorn’s former supervisor, Orlando Police Lieutenant Richard Ruth, said he considered Officer Schellhorn to be “one of our best,” and that his “work performance was exemplary."
A final decision in the arbitration case isn’t expected until the spring of 2019.
Officer Schellhorn was reassigned to the department’s airport division, where he remains on full duty, WKMG reported.
Following the internal investigation into his Facebook comments, Orlando police administrators changed the department’s social media policy to include termination as a possible option for discipline.