“Let the killing begin!” may not be the best lyric for a uniformed police officer to sing on stage. Especially if he’s doing it with a band that last generated controversy for leading an Orlando crowd in chants of “F*ck Jesus!” after pulling the club owner’s crucifix down from the ceiling.
But that’s exactly what former Sanford, Florida, police officer Andrew Ricks chose to do last Friday night at a local bar, the West End Trading Co. In a video posted to YouTube, Ricks can be seen taking the stage with Brian Werner, lead singer of death metal band Vital Remains, and screaming the opening words to their album Dechristianize. The album itself centers on scenes of the crucifixion and includes lyrics such as, “We spit our venom in the face of Jesus Christ” and “Savior to none, failure for all.”
As the Orlando Sentinel reported, Ricks, who had already tendered his resignation on Oct. 30, was relieved of his duties Wednesday morning, two days before the resignation was set to take effect. Had he not sung about “killing,” his tenure would have ended today anyway.
In a statement to the press, Sanford PD Chief Cecil E. Smith said, “An incident of this nature erodes the thin fibers of trust which already exist between the community and the police and it will not be tolerated within the Sanford Police Department.
“It is imperative that we have no misrepresentations of the immediate actions taken by the police department in situations of this nature and that we will continue to provide professional service to all citizens of Sanford.”
After the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, there were widespread protests against the police department which led to the dismissal of former Police Chief Bill Lee after City Manager Norton Bonaparte concluded that he did not have “the confidence of the entire community.” Notably, Lee had not pressed charges against George Zimmerman, the man who shot Martin and who was later found not guilty of either murder or manslaughter.
Even against this historical backdrop of unrest, some in the metal community believe that Chief Smith is having a hypersensitive reaction to Ricks’s swan song. In response to reports of Ricks being relieved of duty, Brian Werner told a heavy metal site, “This is exactly what’s wrong with the world today.”Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Ricks told The Daily Beast that he resigned in good standing and that he could not comment further until after his resignation took effect.
Some metalheads have taken to the department’s Facebook page in Ricks’s defense to voice their discontent with his slightly-shortened stay at the Sanford PD, referring to the brief performance at West End Trading Co. as “community outreach” and “model community policing.”
But Chief Smith tells The Daily Beast that Ricks’s behavior that night was unacceptable and that he had violated other policies as well. Oh, and he has nothing against heavy metal.
“There is absolutely no concern with us with anyone listening to heavy metal,” he told The Daily Beast. “That’s your prerogative and your choice of music that you want to listen to.”
Smith said that he received an email last Tuesday evening referring him to a video of Ricks’s rock-star moment, and that he opened an investigation into the conduct after a community member expressed concern about the song. Early Wednesday morning, he and his command staff arrived at the decision to essentially move the date of Ricks’s resignation up by two days.
This contradicts the widespread misperception that Ricks was “fired” merely for singing.
“For folks to believe that he was terminated because of the circumstances isn’t true,” Chief Smith said. “What would have probably happened if Officer Ricks had remained on the job, is that we would have completed the internal investigation, for which he would have most likely received some form of discipline.”
Ricks had violated other policies as well, Smith said. Most importantly, he said, Ricks had disobeyed the requirement to have his body camera turned on while doing community contacts. Ricks had also placed a training officer in a situation that the latter was not equipped to handle, the chief claimed.
The Sentinel reports that Ricks resigned from his first police job in Apopka, Florida, after just six months in 2009. He has been with the Sanford PD since 2010.
Even setting aside the context of the song, its possible meanings, or the religious provocations of the band, Smith maintains that an officer singing the words “Let the killing begin” in full uniform sends the wrong message to citizens of Sanford.
“‘Let the killing begin’ is not an appropriate response to anything, considering the tensions between law enforcement and the communities, and considering the circumstances of things that have taken place in Paris and around our country,” he said.
“The last thing I want to do is have anyone be in fear of one of our police officers.”