Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
A Florida sheriff’s deputy was fired after telling an incarcerated person that he looked like George Floyd and asking him to say a few of the deceased man’s last words: “I can’t breathe.”
Deputy First Class Rodney Payne made light of Floyd’s death in July 2021 while working at the Lee County Core Facility Community Programs Unit, and his supervisor immediately stepped in and told him it was inappropriate, according to an internal affairs report seen by the Fort Myers News-Press. Incarcerated people also heard the exchange, which one inmate said included Payne imitating gasping sounds, according to WINK-TV, a CBS affiliate in Fort Myers.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office investigated, and Payne was fired on Aug. 26. He described himself as a “jokester” and blamed the incident on his “shitty humor,” WINK-TV reported.
“Members of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office are held to the highest standards, and maintain a high degree of integrity and compassion,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said in a statement, “Unfortunately, this member failed to meet those standards, and as such I withdrew his appointment.”
Floyd, who died under the knee of ex-Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin last year after he was pinned to the ground by his neck for more than nine minutes, repeatedly cried out that he couldn’t breathe, pleaded for his mother, and warned “They’ll kill me” before he lost consciousness during an arrest over allegations that he used a counterfeit bill. Witnesses to the killing, which took place outside a convenience store, begged the police to stop, according to bystander video seen around the world.
Floyd’s death went on to inspire a global anti-racism movement and a wave of policing reforms. It also led to Chauvin’s murder conviction in April. But, for some law enforcement officers, it became an excuse to joke around and share potentially career-ending memes.