A police officer and father of a special needs child in Pelham, Alabama, has resigned from his job after a recording of his peers mocking kids with disabilities was leaked.
The officers made the inflammatory remarks back in August, and upon hearing them, Dustin Chandler, the police officer who just recently resigned, filed complaints against his co-workers. Chandler, who has a 3-year-old with special needs, says not only was he disgusted by the jokes, but he started to become frustrated by the lack of attention his bosses gave to the complaints he filed.
“I am a guy that takes my daughter very seriously, her situation," Chandler explained. "You've got to be their voice and when they're being made fun of at their expense, you're making fun of my daughter. Somebody has to stand up and defend the defenseless.”
In the audio recording captured during a morning roll call at the station, which can be heard in full here, officers freely mock disabled students who attend Pelham’s Linda Nolen Learning Center.
“Does that big ol' joker still go to school at Linda Nolen? Does anybody know?” one officer jokes about another officer attending the school for kids with special needs.
“No, he graduated,” jokes a fellow officer.
“His picture's on the wall,” joked another.
“And they realize that they're no longer, they're not part of the Pelham school system, and they are just ecstatic that we still walk in there. They really like us. Really like us,” another officer retorts.
“Every time I walk in there,” one officer says as someone mocks a disabled child by making a groaning noise.
“Yeah, they don't talk to me,” says one officer. “I guess it's the old age.”
At this point, the source of the recording claims that one officer began making hand gestures and movements that mimic how they believe someone with a physical disability would move.
“Are you talking about the teachers or are you talking about the students?” one cop asks.
“I'm talking about the students,” the other cop replies.
“Which one are you looking at? Are you looking at the teachers or at the students?” asks another officer. “Which one's happy to see you?”
“Did you just get what he said? You did?” one officer asks.
“They just start rocking in their chairs and throwing shit everywhere,” jokes one cop.
“They were so happy to see Al they offered him Crayons,” suggests another.
“My God. The sensitivity in this room,” an officer says before the recording ends.
Pelham Mayor Gary Waters says that he has heard the recording and realizes that changes need to be made, but he doesn’t think it’s serious enough to warrant him “to come in off vacation and lop off heads.”
“This is not a new problem. This is just a symptom of a larger problem.” Waters said. “I heard the recording. I'm disturbed by the recording and what I heard. I don't know who recorded it. I don't know the context of the conversation. But what I heard, it does bother me, but it doesn't cause me to come in off vacation and lop off heads.”
Despite Chandler’s attempts to report the recording to his bosses prior to resigning, Pelham Police Chief Larry Palmer claims that he didn’t know anything about the remarks and recording until asked about it.
“First of all, my mouth just hit the floor because I've heard nothing of this,” Palmer claimed. “I have no idea what in the heck you are talking about, but I will go find out and I will see what's going on. I would be so, so shocked if any of my guys were making fun of anyone. They're going to have to play the recording to me and I'm going to have to hear it. I have no reply to that. I have no idea what's going on.”
Chandler, who has now resigned amidst frustrations and disgust at his fellow officers, tweeted last week that progress on a park he is building in honor of and named after his young daughter with special needs would be halted due to the situation at the department, but he now says that tweet was just a reaction. He has since deleted it and claims that work on Carly’s Clubhouse, the park that will accommodate people with special needs, is going forward.
“There is no way I can let the actions of a few dictate the future of many, and that is something I have to deal within myself, and I can do that,” Chandler said. “And making statements like we're going to put it on hold, I made a mistake in saying that before I assessed my beliefs. And I believe that is God letting me learn from my weakness and teaching me a lesson.”