Bend police officer under investigation after accusations of extremist speech
The chief of the Bend Police Department said one of its officers is under investigation after displaying a slogan of the gun rights movement while on duty.
Cpl. Joshua Spano was photographed over the weekend donning the Greek phrase “molon labe,” meaning “Come and take [them],” while issuing a citation to a vocal critic of Bend police.
The activist, Mike Satcher, is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Bend over access to police records. Spano cited Satcher on Saturday for criminal trespassing during what the activist describes as a volunteer effort to provide food and showers to unhoused people. After the interaction, members of Satcher’s group, the Central Oregon Peacekeepers, circulated the photo of Spano along with screenshots from his personal social media accounts, which contain imagery often used by far-right groups.
A screenshot of a 2013 post shows a leg tattoo of the Statue of Liberty holding a pistol and silencer, with the “molon labe” phrase inked below. The post is captioned: “Love my country, hate my government.” A 2017 post apparently made by Spano displays a collection of patches alongside a notebook cover that reads: “People To Kill.” One of the patches includes the Roman number “iii,” a favorite of the anti-government militia group, the Three Percenters. Alleged members of the group from Texas and Colorado stand accused of participating in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Last December, Spano also appeared to use Instagram to advertise stickers — an image of an assault rifle in the style of the Patagonia fish logo. The sticker was visible on a fellow officer’s clipboard at a police response months earlier, as clashing political demonstrations turned violent.
Spano appears to have two Instagram accounts. One is for his side business, Sage Steppe Outdoors. The stickers were advertised in identical language on both social media accounts. In articles of incorporation filed with the Oregon Secretary of State last year, Sage Steppe Outdoors lists its principal place of business as the address for the Bend Police Department’s main precinct.
Spano has set the accounts to private. OPB could not independently verify his posts, and he could not be reached for comment.
Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz said the “molon labe” item photographed on his uniform over the weekend, which appears to be a keychain, is “inconsistent with the uniform.”
“It’s also alleged by several, I don’t know who makes these determinations, that it somehow supports extremist ideologies,” Krantz said of the Greek phrase. “There’s no place in policing for extremism or violent ideology.”
Krantz told OPB he was unaware of the content on Spano’s social media.
“We’ll be conducting an internal review and inquiry into whether these are policy violations,” Krantz said. “No one is on administrative leave.”
Bend police department policies contain strict uniform protocols. They also prohibit wearing any part of the uniform to “endorse, support, oppose, or contradict any social issue, cause, or religion,” unless authorized by the Chief of Police. The policy manual says employee speech, expression and social networking are subject to reasonable limitations, while carefully considering the individual employee’s rights.
The Anti-Defamation League monitors extremism across the ideological spectrum and provides resources for public officials to identify and counter emerging threats, according to its website. Mark Pitcavage, an analyst with the nonprofit’s Center on Extremism, reviewed the images from Spano’s social media.
“ADL would deem a Three Percenter emblem on the personal vehicle of a police officer to be problematic, and a sign of extremism,” Pitcavage said. “It should be investigated and appropriate action taken.”
The “III” patch appears to be produced by an apparel brand marketed to military veterans. Spano’s social media accounts identify him as a veteran combat medic. Many of the other patches seen in the social media post are military in nature, Pitcavage said.
State records show Spano was with the Medford Police Department from 2008 until joining Bend’s force in late 2015. Spano left Medford after several cases of using force.
In June 2014, Spano assisted an Oregon State Police officer, Gregor Smyth, in a traffic stop of an undocumented man from Mexico, according to reporting from InvestigateWest and Pamplin Media. The newspaper found eight minutes of audio from Smyth’s recorder, picking up what sounds like a violent beating that took place after the suspect, Roberto Santana-Park, was reportedly in handcuffs. The OSP officer disclosed using force when he radioed for a supervisor to come to the scene. Santana-Park’s wife told a reporter that when she bailed her husband out of jail, he had a goose egg over one eye, cuts along his eyebrow and inside his lips, and an injury to one wrist that left a scar.
All charges against Santana-Park would later be dropped. The reporter found that Spano did not report using force in a short narrative he filed with the Medford Police department, meaning its administration never reviewed the incident.
Shortly after Spano was hired in Bend, a federal judge also dismissed an unrelated complaint alleging excessive force in a 2014 incident involving a theft suspect.
A Bend Police spokesperson did not respond to emailed questions about whether these incidents or Spano’s social media, were reviewed in the hiring process. This year, the Oregon House passed HB 2936, which if it passes the Senate, would require the creation of a uniform background check process in hiring law enforcement statewide. The bill would also require law enforcement employees to allow employers to access social media accounts.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the language on Cpl. Joshua Spano’s key chain. OPB regrets the error.
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