Chapel Hill, NC – A Chapel Hill police officer has been placed on paid administrative leave after a photo that showed a tattoo on his arm raised questions about his ability to serve, the police chief said.
Photographer Daniel Hosterman said he took the photograph at approximately 8:15 p.m. on Aug. 20, after protesters toppled the Silent Sam Confederate monument displayed at the University of North Carolina (UNC), The Charlotte Observer reported.
The image, which Hosterman shared on social media the following day, showed Chapel Hill Police Officer Cole Daniels’ forearm tattoo of the Roman numeral three encircled by 12 stars.
The tattoo closely resembles a Three Percenters symbol, which uses 13 stars of the revolutionary flag, or Betsy Ross flag, The Charlotte Observer reported.
Blue Lives Matter Editor-in-Chief Christopher Berg said that it's likely that the missing star is an error.
“A police officer standing guard at Silent Sam sports a tattoo with the three percenter symbol,” Hosterman captioned the photo. “These ‘patriot’ groups have been known to openly protect racists, fascists and neo-Nazis including on A12 2017 in Charlottesville and in Portland for the Patriot Prayer brawls.”
Berg explained the issues with broadly characterizing Three Percenters.
"The term 'Three Percenter' comes from a story that only three-percent of the population fought in the Revolutionary War, and thanks to those patriots, liberty was achieved for everybody," Berg said. "What connects Three Percenters is an anti-authoritarian belief system, which often treads into anti-government extremism."
"Three Percenter's aren't an organized group," he explained. "There are organized groups of Three Percenters, but literally anybody can declare themselves to be a Three Percenter with no connection to any other Three Percenters or outside group."
"There are certainly racists who identify as Three Percenters, but the majority are not racist. It'd be hard to be a Nazi who claims to be a Three Percenter because Nazis are authoritarian and Three Percenters are anti-authoritarian. You'll see Three Percenter symbols at rallies confronting antifa because antifa are authoritarian."
He said that, while very uncommon, Three Percenters do exist in law enforcement.
"Three Percenters tend to lean anti-government and police officers are agents of the government," Berg said. "I'd have to assume that police officer Three Percenters are simply anti-authoritarian, not anti-government. If they are actually anti-government, then they are very confused."
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue first addressed the officer’s tattoo on Aug. 24, and said Officer Daniels had “expressed regret that his tattoo had been associated with groups that perpetuate hate and violence,” The Charlotte Observer reported.
“The negative interpretation of that tattoo is inconsistent with the values and mission of our department,” Chief Blue said at the time. “We understand the concerns regarding the negative interpretations of the tattoo and regret it was displayed. This will not occur again.”
On Monday, Officer Daniels, a four-year veteran of the force, was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
“The pervasiveness of the concerns raised by many regarding his display of a tattoo that is associated with the ‘3 Percenters’ has caused the Department to question his ability to function effectively as a police officer within this community,” Chief Blue said in a statement.
“Consistent with our Council-Manager form of government, and our Town’s Disciplinary Process, any potential serious disciplinary action will be taken in consultation with the Town Manager’s Office and the Town’s attorneys,” Chief Blue added.
It was unclear why Chief Blue did not address concerns regarding Officer Daniels’ tattoo earlier, since he had been aware of its potentially controversial connotations since at least February, The Charlotte Observer reported.
“I’m calling you to thank you for calling attention to a tattoo that one of my officers has that apparently slipped through our cracks,” Chief Blue said in a voicemail to Elon University computer science professor Megan Squire on Feb. 2.
Chief Blue was referring to a different photograph of Officer Daniels’ tattoo, which Squire had used in a presentation she gave at UNC in August of 2017.
“I would love to hear a little more about how you came across the picture depicting him and share a little bit about my thoughts on how we move forward,” the chief said in a later voicemail.
Squire said she did not return Chief Blue’s calls, according to The Charlotte Observer.