By Sharon Bernstein
(Reuters) - A San Jose police officer who tweeted threatening messages to demonstrators protesting the police killings of unarmed black men has been placed on administrative leave, a spokeswoman for the department said Monday.
The action comes amid ongoing protests nationwide over the deaths of Michael Brown, an unarmed teen shot to death by police in Missouri, and Eric Garner, who died after a New York officer placed him in a chokehold.
"Threaten me or my family and I will use my God-given and law appointed right and duty to kill you," White wrote on Twitter, adding the hashtag #CopsLivesMatter, a riff on the protest slogan "Black Lives Matter."
White also ridiculed Garner's words while in the chokehold, "I can't breathe," which have become a rallying cry for protesters including major league basketball players, who wore T-shirts emblazoned with the words in pre-game warm-ups.
"By the way," he wrote on Twitter, "if anyone feels they can't breathe or their lives matter I'll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun."
San Jose police spokeswoman Sergeant Heather Randol said the department was taking the matter very seriously and that White had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
In a statement sent to reporters on Monday, Randol and department Chief Larry Esquivel confirmed that the tweets were made by White on his private account.
"It is extremely important for the community to know the comments made on Officer White's private social media account do not reflect the thoughts or feelings of the men and women here at the San Jose Police Department," Esquivel said in the statement. "Nor do we condone this type of behavior."
White worked on gang prevention programs for the police department, and also coached basketball at Menlo College & University in Atherton.
On Monday, however, a brief statement was posted on the school's Facebook page saying White was no longer associated with Menlo College.
"The College will not be represented by expressions of intolerance and bigotry on the campus, on social media or on the internet," the statement said.
White was not immediately available for comment. On Sunday, his Twitter page was locked to all but those with approved access, and on Monday it appeared to have been taken down.
The tweets were first reported on Sunday by the online content service BuzzFeed, where screenshots of the statements can still be seen.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Eric Walsh)