Pinellas County detention deputy fired after calling co-worker, inmates the n-word, officials say

Posted at 10:01 AM, Apr 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-20 18:55:37-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A Pinellas County detention deputy was fired for harassing a co-worker, discrimination and creating a racially hostile work environment, according to a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office news release.

On January 14, Deputy Jorge Lopez, 30, was working in a maximum security housing area of the Pinellas County Jail when he initiated conversation with a white co-worker. During their conversation, Lopez asked if an African American deputy who was assigned to the area was currently on the floor and stated, "well there's a lot of n*****s on this floor."

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Lopez's co-worker told him he was offended by his inappropriate language and to not use the word around him. 

Investigators said that is when Lopez repeated the word multiple times and directed his aggressive behavior towards his co-worker — calling him a "n****r" and "an inmate n****r lover."

Lopez's co-worker told him multiple times to stop but Lopez continued.  

At one point, Lopez asked another co-worker if he knew the co-worker he was speaking to was a "n****r' lover?" Lopez's behavior continued until the co-worker left the room.

According to investigators, witnesses told them that Lopez also referred to the inmates as "stupid n*****s", and said, "the n*****s behind the gates need to control themselves."

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Sheriff Bob Gualtieri called the behavior unacceptable.

"He has no business being a law enforcement officer plain and simple," the sheriff said.

During the course of the administrative investigation, Lopez admitted to the allegations and to using racial slurs while working at the jail prior to the incident.

"He accepted responsibility to some degree, but again he tried to deflect it as well about things that happened in his past as a Hispanic male and some slurs that had been made against him and tried to justify that or explain that as that's what caused him to do this, but that's a bunch of nonsense," the sheriff said. 

Gualtieri said he was disheartened when he learned it happened more than once.

"Of course it came out during the investigation....that I wish others had reported it if they had heard this....that this wasn't the first time and that he had done this in the past," the sheriff said.

The Administrative Review Board, as a result of the investigation, determined that Lopez violated Sheriff's Office policy and fired him on Friday, April 20.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said Lopez had been with the department since May, 2014. They said he previously served about eight years in the military.

The sheriff said the only disciplinary action against Lopez was today's decision to end his employment.

"This is not just a(n) off the cuff comment. This is a deliberate course of conduct by this guy, by this former deputy, who engaged in, really a tirade about race and racial epithets," the sheriff said.