Wis. correctional officer suspended for Facebook post

MADISON — A Wisconsin prison guard who posted a joke on Facebook last year about lynchings that referenced President Barack Obama received a one-day suspension and was required to attend training, according to documents obtained by the State Journal.

Correctional Officer Collin Visser posted in December a photo of Christmas tree ornaments with the president’s likeness accompanied by the text, “Look guys. Obama Christmas ornaments. Suddenly it’s legal to hang a black man from a tree again!”

Visser, who has worked at Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun since April 2014, shared the image in the comments section of a newspaper’s Facebook post about a Black Lives Matter rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The details of Visser’s punishment were revealed last week, months after the State Journal first requested the Department of Corrections’ investigation into the post under open records law, and after department officials repeatedly refused to say whether Visser was disciplined.

Dodge Correctional Institution Warden Marc W. Clements told Visser in January that he would be suspended for one day and required to attend a training by the Office of Diversity and Employment services for what Clements called a “serious act of misconduct.”

The investigation found Visser violated four department work rules, Clements said, including those relating to harassment and exercising good judgment.

“Your use of social media in this demeaning and derogatory manner is not only a reflection of you but on every DOC staff member,” Clements told Visser in a letter dated Jan. 28. “It runs counter to every part of our mission and cannot be tolerated.”

Visser, who did not respond to a Facebook message seeking comment, told a state investigator he did not create the image, which appeared to be a cellphone screen shot of someone else’s post.

In an interview and written statement, Visser told investigators he “meant no harm” by posting the image, and asked to be allowed to keep his job.

“I meant it as a joke,” Visser said. “When I looked back at it, I realized that it was stupid and I deleted it.”

“I am not a racist,” Visser said.

An Iowa woman who noticed Visser’s image also saw that the personal Facebook account he used to post it listed his job at the prison, and contacted the State Journal and DOC officials about the image on Dec. 10. Visser was ordered to serve his suspension on Feb. 11.

“The Department of Corrections takes all allegations of employee misconduct seriously,” department spokeswoman Joy Staab said in a statement. “The department conducted a thorough investigation and subsequently delivered a level of discipline commensurate with the actions of the employee.”

The State Journal requested documents relating to the investigation of Visser’s post in February.

More than two months later, the Department of Corrections turned over the investigation, but wrote that it was withholding, “Any records which reflect the discipline, if any, which was imposed as a result of this investigation.”

When the State Journal appealed that decision, the department claimed in June that the paper had never requested discipline information.