The Lethbridge Police Service has fired a sergeant accused of misconduct for his role in spreading “vicious, offensive and abusive memes” directed at the force’s leadership and other officers in a group chat in 2018, marking the end of long indicating disciplinary proceedings against five officers.
Sgt. Jason Moulton – the creator of the “Meme Militia” chat – was dismissed from the service on Monday afternoon in what should be the final verdict in disciplinary hearings that have been ongoing since November 2021.
The misconduct stems from a private chat created by Moulton and used by a small group of officers in 2018. Police say the messages and memes shared by the officers were offensive and against the force’s policy, and “targeted the LPS executive management, other officers and society. generally.” Following an external investigation completed in 2020, five officers were charged with misconduct under the Alberta Police Act and Police Service Regulation.
Once public, the incident was labeled “memegate” by locals and the media.
Moulton pleaded guilty to two counts of discreditable conduct, two counts of dereliction of duty and one count of insubordination. He pleaded not guilty and was acquitted of one more charge of discreditable conduct before his dismissal on Monday. While prosecutors successfully sought his removal from the force, the sergeant’s defense attorney fought for a permanent demotion to constable first class.
With Moulton fired, Shahin Mehdizadeh, head of the LPS, said the case had been “jointly settled”.
“The Lethbridge Police Service is disheartened by the actions of these five officers and the dishonor, embarrassment and erosion of public trust they have caused, as well as the harm to our own employees and others who were among those targeted in the memes is,” Mehdizadeh said in a written statement. “I am deeply saddened and sorry that the actions of a few have affected so many. Their behavior does not reflect the values of our police service and our commitment to the community.”
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In November last year, constables Dave Easter and Matt Rilkoff were demoted two grades for a year. Two other officers left the force before entering pleas in the case, leading to a loss of jurisdiction by the LPS.
Mehdizadeh said the officers were held accountable “at a great personal cost. But the cost to the service as a whole was much greater.”
“We must look forward and continue the work we have already begun to repair the significant damage done by these officers, internally within our own ranks and culture, and externally with the community.
“Significant reform, at all levels of the organization, has and continues to take place,” he said.
The chief noted that policies and procedures have been reviewed and updated and the force is making sure they are clearly communicated to employees – specifically those related to ensuring a respectful workplace. He also said that all sworn officers at the LPS have received training in Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement – a program that provides intervention strategies and tactics to prevent misconduct and hold officers accountable when inappropriate behavior is observed.
“The past few years have been particularly challenging and I am very proud of our employees – sworn officers and civilians – for their unwavering commitment to positive change for the Service, the community and each other in the face of adversity. We are a strong team,” said Mehdizadeh.
The presiding officer ordered that the memes and communications of the group chat be sealed indefinitely; the contents remain unknown.
Moulton has 30 days to appeal the ruling.