Alabama sheriff’s deputy Jeff Graves has been placed on administrative leave after writing homophobic comments beneath a Facebook post honoring Nigel Shelby, a 15-year-old high school student who committed suicide. Nigel had been repeatedly bullied for being gay.
Here’s what you need to know about Jeff Graves and his posts on social media after the tragic death of Nigel Shelby.
1. Graves Posted Inflammatory Comments After Teenager Nigel Shelby’s Suicide
Nigel Shelby was a 15-year-old Huntsville High School student who committed suicide on the afternoon of April 19. Nigel, who had been battling depression and struggled with his sexuality, also endured constant bullying at school. “Nigel was the sweetest child. He was so outgoing. He was always so full of joy full of life,” Nigel’s mother Camika Quintay recalled.
Quintay isn’t sure if any acts of bullying occurred at school on the day that Nigel took his own life but acknowledged that bullying had been an ongoing issue for her son. “Depression is really a disease and when you are to have a kid is really depressed and going through a lot emotionally, free to call him names that you shouldn’t call him you know or say stuff to them it sometimes has a worse effect then it would on a child who is not struggling with depression,” Quintay shared with WZDX. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Nigel’s family.
On April 20, Principal Aaron King wrote on the Huntsville High School PTSA Facebook page, “We were saddened to learn this morning of the death of Nigel Shelby, one of our 9th grade students. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time.” He said that counselors would be on hand to help Shelby’s grieving classmates. The school’s Facebook also posted resources for students and their families.
On April 22, Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Christie Finley spoke at a school board meeting and implored listeners to “treat one another as you want to be treated.” She asked the community to embrace “values of acceptance, kindness, generosity, helpfulness and basically, just being a human.” She said that adults should not just teach these values, but model them as well.
2. Jeff Graves Said LGBTQ Stood for “Liberty, Guns, Bible, Trump, BBQ” on a Page Honoring Shelby
Shelby’s death prompted television station WZDX to post their story “People in Huntsville Speaking Out Against LGBTQ Bullying.” on Facebook. The piece advocated for tolerance and kindness to members of the LGBTQ community and focused on raising funds for Shelby’s funeral. LGBTQ stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.” Graves, however, commented by altering the abbreviation’s meaning to “Liberty, Guns, Bible, Trump, BBQ,” adding, “That’s my kind of LGBTQ.”
“I am seriously offended there is a thing such as this movement. I have a right to be offended and will always be offended by this fake movement which requires no special attention but by persons with an altered ego and fake agenda,” he said.
Grave’s LinkedIn page says he is an “experienced public servant” skilled in patrol, criminal investigations, firearms handling and public safety. His comments have since been removed from social media.
3. Graves Argued That his Comment was a Freedom of Speech Issue
Graves’ comments created an immediate backlash. Several people responded with anger to his post. “Freedom of speech. It’s my right to disagree,” he said.
“A child died because he was bullied for being gay. I would ask if that bothers you but clearly it doesn’t. You are part of the problem, sir,” Lindsay Fergersen wrote. In one post, Graves defended his inflammatory comments. “Society is who I blame sir and I won’t apologize. I have a right to be offended and I will not step aside for it. You are the PROBLEM.”
4. The Sheriff’s Issued A Statement About Graves’Suspension
Jeff Graves’ posts resulted in outrage on social media, with some members of the public expressing concern that Jeff Graves was a law enforcement officer. Two days after his comments were posted, the Madison County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement to notify the public that the deputy had been placed on administrative leave.
“The sheriff’s office has assigned these allegations to be audited with the information that has been provided to us. The sheriff’s office holds all its employees to a high standard, and the public can be assured that a thorough and complete audit will be conducted and appropriate action will be taken,” the department’s Facebook post read. WZDX and RocketCityNow.com report that Sheriff Turner will be making an announcement regarding Graves’ status after completing their investigation.
Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner offered his condolences to the Shelby family. He also commented on the issue of bullying. “Bullying of any group or person in or outside of schools is unacceptable, and I welcome any and all efforts to raise awareness to bullying and bring bullying to a stop. The Madison County Sheriff’s Office is proud of the community support and engagement we have received over the years, and we look forward to growing those community partnerships,” he stated.
5. A Kentucky Food Truck Has Come Under Fire for Selling T-Shirts With the Same Slogan Used by Graves
The slogan used by Jeff Graves can be seen on T-shirts, coffee mugs and other paraphernalia sold online by popular retailers such as Amazon, Teespring, Etsy, and e-Bay. A Williamstown, Kentucky barbecue food truck owner says he’s been selling the shirt for over a year. In mid-April, Jamie Smith of Belle’s Smokin’ Barbecue advertised it on social media, where he claims to have gotten a large response. “I posted the shirt today for new swag and it just went out of hand and it got blown up,” Belle’s Smokin’ Barbecue owner Jamie Smith told ABC11.
Smith spoke with several media outlets and apologized to anyone who may be offended by his take on the meaning of LGBTQ. Although criticism mounts, Smith continues to sell the shirts, which also sport the food truck’s name and logo, on the company’s website.