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By Chris Turner, Katie Delaune and Dave Creek, WDRB-TV Fox 41 News
NEW ALBANY, Ind. (WDRB Fox 41) -- New Albany Police Officer Jack Messer will serve a 40-day unpaid suspension after making what some have called a racist comment during a police roll call in January.
Messer said, "The biggest mistake they could have done was give them civil rights." The officer was referring to African-Americans.
Messer has argued that his comments were taken out of context, but says he will continue to apologize to anyone he offended. He offered another tearful explanation earlier this week.
Messer was also under investigation for abusing sick leave, and that accounts for part of the suspension. He was accused of working for his wife's lawn care business while on medical leave from the police department.
The police merit commission announced Messer's suspension publicly on Thursday. It includes 30 days for the alleged racial remarks and ten days for the sick leave incident.
Messer will serve the 40 days consecutively, merit commission president Bob Dusch said late Thursday night. Dusch corrected his earlier statement in a news conference that Messer could serve the ten-day term concurrently with the 30.
Messer spoke with Fox 41's Chris Turner on Thursday afternoon and called the decision "disappointing." He said he has not decided whether to appeal the decision to Floyd Circuit Court. He intends to have a news conference with his attorney on Friday and may announce his decision then.
Messer said New Albany police chief Todd Bailey delivered to him Wednesday night a letter detailing the suspension. Messer said he turned in his badge, weapons and patrol car after his tour of duty Thursday.
In a news conference, Dusch said Messer "showed little concern for the appearance of racism and the appearance of impropriety of the NAPD concerning his comments and his failure to timely apologize."
"As Mr. Messer said, he misspoke. And I'm hoping people will take that at face value and move on," Dusch said.
Leaders of New Albany's NAACP chapter had sought a suspension.
"The 40 days is sufficient," said spokesman Dustin White. "We are glad they are active, and this is a process of (beginning) the process of healing in the city of New Albany."
New Albany police chief, Col. Todd Bailey, said the Messer incidents are embarrassing to fellow officers and have tarnished the image of the department.
"This was extremely disappointing and disrespectful," Bailey said.
Fox 41 News asked if Messer can be en effective police officer when he returns to duty.
"That will be up to Officer Messer," Bailey responded.
Messer did not want to talk on camera Thursday. He told Fox 41 News his suspension runs through December 23.
He'll lose more than $8,300 pay and possibly part of his retirement benefits. Messer has said he wants to retire in May; however, that date may be in doubt. Messer has served almost 27 years on the department.
Messer also is a city councilman. He has said repeatedly this year that he considers the police merit board investigation politically motivated because of his plans to run for mayor in next year's election.