Sergeant Sean Maas was terminated from the Avondale Police Department on September 13, 2018, after two colleagues reported his “racially insensitive” Facebook posts to command staff. The posts had been viewed by at least 400 people, including city employees.
Maas appealed his termination through an attorney representing the Avondale police officers’ union.
Independent hearing officer Prudence Lee, deeming the posts “hate filled” and in violation of city policy, recommended denying Maas’ appeal, according to a ruling. The city upheld the sergeant’s termination, according to a January 29, 2019, letter to Maas from City Manager Charles Montoya.
According to an investigative report, Maas’ posts appeared to be directed at Erica Sayles, a black woman with whom Maas and his wife, Melissa Maas, were engaged in a business dispute.
Sayles claimed in a lawsuit that Melissa Maas improperly removed her as a co-owner of a beauty salon and added her husband, Sean. Maas claimed that Sayles violated a settlement agreement related to the business.
Sgt. Maas’ posts, apparently mocking Sayles, included photos of black women with captions in stereotypical black dialect. Maas also made posts mocking Sayles’ weight and “liked” a post appearing to compare African-Americans to gorillas, a common racist trope.
Melissa Maas responded to the second photo with a picture of a gorilla. Another mutual friend, identified in the investigative report as “Jarrod,” responded with a “video of a gorilla with changing hair styles.” Maas “liked” the gorilla video.
On April 23, 2018, Maas posted another meme-type photo of a black woman with the caption, “I ain’t following no agreement. I’m taking all dis shit. This is my salon."
Maas claimed during his hearing that the posts were solely directed at Sayles, and not intended to disparage African-Americans in general, according to hearing officer Lee’s ruling.
In an earlier hearing related to his termination, Maas told Assistant City Manager Gina Montes that he has friends who are black and Hispanic, allegedly demonstrating that he does not have a bias toward African-Americans.
“You also offered your minor in African American studies as proof that you are not biased toward African Americans,” Montes wrote Maas in a letter on September 13, 2018.