A police sergeant has denied a charge of sending a grossly offensive meme of George Floyd to colleagues in a WhatsApp group.
The trial of Sgt Geraint Jones, 47, from the Devon and Cornwall force in south-west England, will take place in Plymouth in March.
It is alleged the image of Floyd, whose death in the US prompted worldwide protests over racial injustice, was altered and sent to fellow officers and staff.
Jones is alleged to have shared the image on 30 May, five days after Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has been suspended from duty since June.
The officer, from Torquay, made his first court appearance on Thursday via video link before the district judge Jo Matson, who was sitting in Plymouth. He was represented by Jamas Hodivala QC of Matrix Chambers. Matson said she would hear the trial herself at Plymouth magistrates court on 19 March.
Jones is charged with sending the image by means of a public electronic communications network, an offence contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. Section 127 makes it an offence to send a message that “is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.
The case was investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which said before the hearing: “An altered image of George Floyd’s arrest in Minneapolis was shared within a WhatsApp group that included a number of other police officers and staff.
“Our investigation began in June 2020 following a referral from the force. At its conclusion in October we sent our investigation report to the Crown Prosecution Service, which has authorised the charge.”
The IOPC has also investigated other officers who received the allegedly offensive meme for potential disciplinary offences. It will make those findings public after the conclusion of criminal proceedings, which take precedent.
The Guardian revealed in June that an investigation had been launched into the sending of the image.
Jim Nye, a Devon and Cornwall assistant chief constable, said in June: “Devon and Cornwall police wholly appreciate the concern our communities will have regarding an investigation of this kind. I would reassure them that I, and the chief constable, will do everything possible to ensure the matter is dealt with effectively and in a timely manner.”
Floyd died after a US officer knelt on his neck in an incident that was caught on video, and which convulsed the US and led to more than 250,000 protesting in the UK against racial injustice.