An pretty innocuous photo taken at this year’s South by Southwest music festival has landed a state trooper in hot water. Pictured above is Trooper Billy Spears, who posed for a photo with rapper Snoop Dogg while providing off-duty security services at the event. An assistant for Snoop Dogg took the photo and it was later posted to his massively-popular Instagram feed (4.8 million followers and counting).
The photo came to the attention of Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, who took umbrage at the idea of a Texas State Trooper posing for a photo with Dogg. In an email sent on Sunday, March 22, by McCraw to his deputy David Baker, the Texas top cop said that “[Spears] must not understand that he was being lampooned by a dope smoking cop hater which reflects very poorly upon the Department.”
Not long after that email was written, Spears was issued an informal “counseling reprimand,” which is a non-appealable disciplinary action. It read:
While working a secondary employment job, Trooper Spears took a photo with a public figure who has a well-known criminal background including numerous drug charges. The public figure posted the photo on social media and it reflects poorly on the Agency.
The Dallas Morning News has an interesting and detailed article about just how much time and effort went into identifying the trooper posing with Snoop Dogg, and just how angry McCraw apparently was after seeing the photo.
Following the issuance of the counseling reprimand, Spears hired attorney Ty Clevenger and has now filed a lawsuit against the Department of Public Safety, alleging that he has suffered retaliation by the agency, McCraw, and various other agency executives as a result of the photo. Clevenger has repeatedly said that his client had no knowledge of Snoop Dogg’s criminal history when he agreed to pose for the photo and “was extending a simple courtesy.”
Clevenger runs a blog called LawFlog, and has posted several updates on the Spears/Snoop Dogg controversy. His most recent post poses the provocative question “Does the Texas DPS director have a persecution complex?”
While that’s an intriguing question, the more salient inquiry is whether the Texas Department of Public Safety has an established policy regarding situations like this, and whether Spears violated it when he agreed to pose with Snoop Dogg. I suspect that the answer is “no,” which means that Spears is essentially being punished for not having the same level of cultural awareness as his superiors and for not making the same choice his superiors would have made if they were approached by Snoop Dogg for a photo. Maybe he’s just a nicer guy.