LCSO fires deputy who told inmate to say ‘I can’t breathe’ and that he looks like George Floyd

Published: September 15, 2021 6:19 PM EDT
Updated: September 15, 2021 6:20 PM EDT
File: Lee County Sheriff's Office Patrol cruiser. Credit: WINK News

A Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputy was fired for mocking an inmate who he said looked like George Floyd, all while asking the inmate to say “I can’t breathe,” some of the last words spoken by Floyd.

Floyd, a Black man, was killed by Minneapolis police officers as he pleaded for his life on May 25, 2020. His death sparked protests and led to the conviction of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.

Deputy Sheriff First Class Rodney Payne admitted to the behavior, blaming it on his “sh*tty humor,” according to an internal affairs investigation released by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday.

The investigation found Payne violated the Lee County Sheriff’s Office policies on improper conduct: derogatory remarks and improper conduct: conduct unbecoming an officer.

Payne had his appointment withdrawn on Aug. 26.

The incident happened on July 25 at the Core Facility Community Programs Unit and was reported by another inmate who heard the exchange.

Payne made the comment in front of his immediate supervisor Sgt. Christopher Cage who said he “immediately shut down the conversation telling Deputy Payne his comments were insensitive and inappropriate,” according to the internal affairs investigation.

An inmate interviewed for the investigation said Payne called him over and told him another inmate looked like George Floyd “and imitated gasping sounds referencing not being able to breathe,” according to the report.

Payne described himself as a “jokester.”

Payne said “his comments in hindsight were ‘in sh*tty taste’ and insensitive,” according to the internal affairs investigation.