WARREN - About 30 residents, including five police officers, lined the hallway Tuesday night at the Shepard Municipal Building during a closed-door session that selectmen held to determine a fired police officer’s fate.

The topic of the 45-minute executive session was the selectmen's firing a policeman last month after he posted a meme on the Fire Department’s Facebook page that could be viewed as insensitive. The local police union, seeking the officer's reinstatement, filed a grievance.  

Shawn Morin, who was employed as a police officer by the Warren Police Department for 23 months, admitted to posting the meme as a comment on a Fire Department post on Facebook that said firefighters were going to a two-alarm building fire on North Street on May 2. The meme is a static picture based on a video clip on YouTube in which a woman, in a TV news segment about a different fire in an unidentified locale, describes waking up to the smell of smoke and says, “I said, oh, Lord Jesus, it’s a fire!”

Someone complained about the posting in an email to the Board of Selectmen, according to Mr. Morin. Marc Richard, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, declined to identify the resident for fear that he or she might be blasted on social media.

The woman in the video and meme is black, and some people said the meme had racial overtones. 

“The occupants of the apartment that was involved in the fire on North Street were not black,” Fire Chief Adam Lavoie said.

The Board of Selectmen has 14 days to respond to the grievance. If selectmen decline to reinstate Mr. Morin, the police union will file for arbitration, which means that a third party would hear the case and make a decision, according to Jeffrey Von Dauber, president of the Warren Patrolman’s Association, Local 195 of the New England Police Benevolent Association.

“They’re taking everything under advisement,” Mr. Morin said after the hearing. “I’ll be able to speak more when they come to a decision.”

Officer Von Dauber, who is a detective in the Police Department, and attorney Tim Zessin of the firm Kopelman and Paige, representing the town, said the selectmen didn’t indicate whether they are inclined for or against reinstatement. However, Mr. Richard said their decision likely will be made sooner than the required 14 days.

“We are all bound by law to not say much until everything becomes public,” Mr. Richard said. “That’s the purpose of executive session. Since we don’t have a town manager or administrator, we have to handle it the best way that we can.”

Mr. Morin said he wanted an open meeting, but the selectmen asked to have it closed.

Supporters of Mr. Morin offered their reaction.

Resident Ed Prokop compared the scenario to when Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves played the Scorpions’ 1984 hit “Rock You Like a Hurricane” during a game against the Miami Marlins. Some people deemed the song inappropriate at a time when more than a million Floridians had to be evacuated because of  an incoming hurricane. The Braves apologized, and no one got fired, Mr. Prokop said.

“Shawn wasn’t being insensitive on purpose,” Mr. Prokop said. “Some discipline would be OK, but not termination. You don’t shoot someone for jaywalking.”

Resident Susan Hannah said the meme was taken the wrong way and discipline was handled the wrong way.

“Because he posted it on his own time, he should only have had a closed-door session with the police chief,” Mrs. Hannah said.

Police Chief Bruce Spiewakowski said Mr. Morin had been assigned the overnight shift, and he hopes Mr. Morin can be rehired quickly.

“Shawn won’t have to reapply,” Chief Spiewakowski said. “I don’t know if he can sue if restored to his job.”


Attorney Thomas Horgan of Hanley Law Offices LLC, representing the union, declined to comment Wednesday.