Two Harford County Sheriff’s Office corrections officers who appeared in a locally-produced rap video will not face punitive action by the department according to Sheriff Jesse Bane, who said their creation of the video is protected under the First Amendment.
Bane told The Dagger that he had viewed the seven-minute-long video and consulted with legal authorities, but ultimately decided that the appearance of corrections officers Larry McFarland and Carlos Jusino was protected under their right to freedom of expression.
“I have to be very careful because I have to protect First Amendment rights,” Bane said Friday. “And because you are a deputy sheriff, doesn’t mean you don’t have First Amendment rights. I have to be very careful, because if I deny someone their First Amendment rights, which is freedom of speech, I open up this agency to one hellacious lawsuit.”
“I did scrutinize that thing,” Bane added, “because if there was anything in there where I could have taken action, I would have done it.”
In the video “We Came to Party,” for which Jusino and McFarland call themselves 80 Proof, the pair appear picking up cars from Adams Chevrolet in Havre de Grace, and driving them to the DC V 2.0 club at the Clarion Hotel in Aberdeen. No profanity is present in the lyrics, and neither man appears to personally engage in any lewd behavior. Neither the video nor the group’s Facebook page includes any mention to their position as Harford County sheriff’s deputies.
Still, as the video made the rounds internally at the Sheriff’s Office, it sparked a debate over whether the deputies were in the wrong.
“You know what, I think people in my agency are upset with that,” Bane said. “Is it something I’m happy to see out there? No, I’m not happy to see that out there.”
However, Bane said he believed McFarland and Jusino’s video does not create a cause for concern about their roles at the Harford County Detention Center.
“I can tell you that those two corrections officers do a good job,” Bane said. “They went through the same rigorous screening that every member of this department goes through when we hire them.”
“I can’t speak for them, but I think if they had it to do over again, I would like to think they wouldn’t do that,” he added. “Particularly because of the controversy it’s created, because I don’t think they care to be the center of controversy. And again, I can’t speak for them, I don’t know, but I have nothing to indicate at this time that those two corrections officers are a threat to the security of that institution. If I had anything to indicate that, they would be dismissed.”
The appearance of the 80 Proof video comes on the heels of debate over the department’s policy on visible tattoos, arguably another form of personal “expression.” Bane said the department’s current policy prohibits tattoos on a deputy’s head, face, neck, or hands; requires any tattoos to be covered by their uniform; and bans offensive tattoos, as determined by command personnel.
However, that policy has drawn complaints from some employees over the need to wear burdensome clothing during hotter months to stay in compliance with the policy.
“I think this is where you have to be extremely careful about what you’re going to allow or not allow if your personnel are going to where tattoos,” Bane said. “Law enforcement—and there’s case law to support this—we have the authority to say what tattoos it is that you can have or can’t have. But we also have a reason for prohibiting certain types of tattoos without denying a person their freedom of expression.”
Bane said challenges such as the 80 Proof video and the more widespread occurrence of tattoos on candidates for deputy positions will only become more prevalent in today’s culture.
“If you talk to any police chief or sheriff, this issue of tattoos, and this issue of the Internet is a real problem,” he said. “Because here again, you can regulate activities or conduct of your deputies on the internet, whether it be Facebook or a web page or whatever, but you have to be very careful how far you go with that.”
“We tell our deputies, we tell them all, be careful what you put out there,” he added. “We would prefer you didn’t put anything out there at all. But be careful what you put out there, it can come back to haunt you.”
Click below to view the 80 Proof video:
The description of 80 Proof from the group’s Facebook page follows:
It all started about 2 years ago. Carlos Jusino, myself Larry McFarland, and two others took a trip to Cancun Mexico. We were having such a good time partying in the clubs that we decided to create a song for the clubs in Cancun for the next year. The song that was created was called “80 Proof the Liquor Song.” We took the song with us on the next trip and everyone loved it including the DJ’s and the people partying in the clubs. The emcee who was in all of the main clubs in Cancun started calling us by the name of the song. In his own words, “80 Proof is in the house ” That is how it all started. 80 Proof sounded so good to us we decided to name ourselves 80 Proof. We came home and began to record an EP. It turned out better than we expected. The EP is called 80 Proof – Top Shelf. Look out we just started and there’s much more to come.