By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
Update: 10:48 p.m. 8/21/20: The official Twitter account for the Pittsburgh Mayor’s office has announced that Pittsburgh Police Sergeant George Kristoff has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
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A Pittsburgh Police Sergeant assigned to the city’s eastern neighborhoods has a history of racially charged Facebook posts that express negative opinions about Black and Brown people, the Black Lives Matter Movement, Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris and protests against police brutality. Many have also been labeled as false and misleading by Facebook’s independent fact-checkers.
George Kristoff, who was promoted to the rank of sergeant in January 2015, has since made his Facebook private but his identity was verified by other personal posts on the page. But screenshots from the page were saved by a Morningside resident who discovered them in recent days and shared with the Pittsburgh Current. All of the information shared on Kristoff’s page appeared to be reshares of memes and other posts.
One post reads: “If you don’t want to get hit by a car, don’t protest in the middle of a highway. If you don’t want to be killed by police, don’t engage in illegal activities. If you’re scared of the coronavirus, stay home. If you don’t love America, leave it. It’s really not that difficult.
Another shows a photo of two Black children holding handguns. The caption underneath reads: “And they wonder why their kids are getting shot.”
“I couldn’t believe what I was reading,” says resident Jen Cielslak. “This is a cop who works in Zone 5 and has been deployed for the recent protests. Over 30 of his posts were flagged by Facebook as fake news. I worry about a police officer who spreads this kind of thing.”
Cieslak found Kristoff’s page by accident. She has had an ongoing issue involving a neighbor who has been harassing her. She has called the police and on their eventual advice filed a harassment charge with the magistrate’s office against the neighbor. But in numerous calls to the Zone 5 station, Cieslak says she has been treated very poorly by many of the officers she encountered, who refused to file charges against the neighbor. Also, at one point recently, the neighbor called police and claimed Cieslak had been harassing him. The officer who responded cited Cieslak for harassment. That charge has since been withdrawn, but more on that in a moment.
Her issues brought Cieslak to the Zone 5 Facebook page. There she noticed that Kristoff liked the page and she recognized his name as someone who yelled at her when she called. She clicked on his page and found the disturbing posts. On Tuesday she filed complaints with the city’s Office of Municipal Investigations, which investigates complaints against city employees and officials and she also sent the information to Bureau of Police Chief Scott Schubert’s assistant.
After trying for weeks to have her charge withdrawn, it happened on Wednesday morning.
Beth Pittinger, executive director of the CPRB could not confirm whether or not a complaint had been filed with her office. However, when shown the posts she said: “Postings such as these if posted by a police officer, can certainly be construed as conduct unbecoming an officer and raise the issue of bias.”
The Current asked the Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety several questions about the posts:
- What is the Pittsburgh Police’s social-media policy for its officers?
- The attached posts express attitudes and opinions regarding the recent protests. Is that problematic for an officer to post?
- How many times since May 15 has Sgt. Kristoff been assigned to a duty dealing with protests?
- I understand a complaint has been made to OMI as well as the Chief. Can you confirm if an investigation is ongoing?
- If this is a known issue, is the Sgt. still on regular duty?
Cara Cruz, a spokesperson for the Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety replied Friday afternoon: “Pittsburgh Police are aware of social media posts made on the personal Facebook page of one of its officers. The Office of Municipal Investigations (OMI) is investigating the complaint.” After a follow-up email, Cruz said, “he has not been involved at all with any of the recent protests,” although no timeframe was given, and “he is still working in his current position.”
Kristoff’s posts include a number of troubling items.
He posted a meme that reads: “You know the brainwashing is real when white people protest against white people.”
Another posts a story from the Washington Times about BLM protesters in Seattle demanding “homeowners give up property.” Text at the top of the post reads: “But they said tht (sic) BLM is about police abuse of power. WRONG! Stop believing the lies.”
In another post about BLM, Kristoff posts: “BLM Supporters have now killed more blacks in a month than the Police have in 35 years. Had enough yet?”
A lot of the posts share sentiments about police brutality. Another post reads: “The real problem isn’t Police ‘Brutality’ The real problem is today we have an entire generation of spoiled ‘entitled’ brats who believe rules don’t apply to them, whose parents refuse to be parents and hold their ‘little kiddos’ accountable for their behavior.”
Other posts are political in nature, but again, many are based on racial themes. They include:
- A photo of Joe Biden with text that reads: “If you’re not rioting and looting then you ain’t Democrat.”
- A stern-faced photo of Barack Obama reading: “It took 223 years to build this nation and you let me, a Muslim, destroy it in 8. I divided you, sent $150 BILLION of your tax dollars to my Muslim brothers, and got a record number of Muslims to run for office. Now watch what I do next.”
- A meme of Kamala Harris shows a headline from 2016: “California’s Kamala Harris becomes first Indian-American U.S. Senator.” A 2020 headline reads: “Biden picks Kamala Harris as running mate, first Black woman.” Under the headlines is a cat in a wizard’s hat with the text: “Whoosh, now you’re black.”
- Another says that Barack Obama and actor Jussie Smollett: “Proof White Privilege Doesn’t exist.”
- There is also a photo of left-wing cause funder George Soros with a false statement attributed to him about funding “black hate groups.”
Another group of posts contain statements that were labeled by Facebook fact-checkers as false. The include a claim that Dr. Anthony Fauci believed in 2005 that hydroxychloroquine could both cure and stop coronavirus; that Kamala Harris said Democrats would have vengeance on Trump supporters; that if a winner isn’t declared in the election by 2020 that Nancy Pelosi would become president and that Harris called Joe Biden a rapist and a racist.