The line between humor and offense can be a very fine one in the workplace.
But sometimes behavior dressed up as banter is so wide of the mark that one wonders what’s really going on beneath the surface.
Certainly, few are buying the excuse of an Ohio police chief caught on video leaving a Ku Klux Klan sign on a Black officer’s desk – that it was merely a joke between two colleagues.
Sheffield Lake Police Chief Anthony Campo was forced out of his job last week after surveillance footage emerged of him taking a piece of paper from a copy machine bearing the printed words “Ku Klux Klan”.
The 33-year veteran, who is White, then places the note on a yellow police raincoat carefully arranged to resemble the hood and robe used by the White supremacist hate group.
In the 25 June clip, which has no sound, the Black officer discovers the unsettling exhibit on his desk moments later and confronts his chief.
Campo allegedly told the officer that he had to wear the coat and sign all day, according to WKYC.
In part of the incident not captured on camera, he also made a cone out of a newspaper to add to the garb for his subordinate to wear, the station reported.
The Black officer, who has not been named, complained to his union, which reported the matter to the mayor of the town roughly 27 miles west of downtown Cleveland.
Mayor Dennis Bring told local media outlets that he stormed into the police station last Tuesday to confront Campo and put him on leave.
“I came into the chief’s office, and he’s standing there with a smile on his face. He goes, ‘So, am I fired?’” Bring told Cleveland.com.
“I said, ‘You got 10 minutes to get out of your office,’” the mayor told WKYC. “‘I want your keys and badge. That’s it. Get out.’”
“He thought this was just a joke,” Bring said. “How can you possibly think that you can put something on somebody’s jacket like that, and especially if they were African American, and think this is a joke?
“This is the most egregious and offensive thing you could possibly do. And it’s embarrassing and disgusting,” he told Cleveland.com.
When Campo heard he would be placed on administrative leave, he resigned and typed up his resignation letter on the spot, according to Bring.
The former chief, who earned $87,000 a year, later insisted to WKYC that the entire episode was merely an off-color joke that had been “overblown” by others. He also said that he had personally hired the officer in question and had nothing but admiration for him as a colleague.
Yet for now, no one is publicly backing Campo, least of all the butt of his “prank”.
The mayor said he and the Black officer were both in tears when they met to discuss what happened.
“It took us 10 minutes to talk to each other because we both sat there crying,” he told Cleveland.com.
“I apologized to him. I can’t describe it in one word. This is not a mistake. This is something so egregious I can’t describe it,” Bring said.
“I don’t even speak of his name right now … I don’t even want to hear his name spoken in this department anymore.”
Bring said he would gladly support the officer if he decided to take legal action against Campo.
“Shame on him. I hope he gets what he deserves,” he said of the ex-police chief.