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Protest Over San Jose Police Officer's Controversial Tweets, 13,000 Sign Petition Demanding His Firing

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- About 80 people demonstrated outside the San Jose Police Department Thursday evening to call for the firing of a police officer who wrote contentious comments on Twitter about ongoing national protests over alleged police misconduct.

The demonstrators delivered to San Jose Police Chief Larry Esquivel shortly after 5 p.m. a copy of an online petition signed by more than 13,000 people calling for the termination of Police Officer Phillip White, police spokeswoman Sgt. Heather Randol said.

"It's all very peaceful," Randol said as protesters were leaving.

"There were no arrests."

The online petition submitted by the protesters, organized by several San Jose groups including Silicon Valley De-Bug and the Silicon Valley NAACP, asked the department to immediately fire White, according to De-Bug spokesman Raj Jayadev.

The demonstrators, some holding signs and chanting the popular refrain, "No Justice, No Peace," marched from the County Government Center on Hedding Street to the police department about two blocks away on Mission Street, where Esquivel was waiting outside.

White, a 20-year veteran of the department who is white, is being investigated by police internal affairs for online messages on Twitter he wrote in reaction to protests in the Bay Area and across the country against alleged wrongdoing by white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men.

The demonstrations were triggered in particular by the deaths two black men, 18-year-old Michael Brown, of Ferguson, Mo., and 43-year-old Eric Garner, of New York, who were killed this year during encounters with white officers. Grand juries in both cases declined to charge the officers.

The alleged actions by the officers and the grand jury decision inspired passionate demonstrations in cities nationwide including Oakland and San Francisco, some of which led to multiple arrests, property damage and looting.

White wrote in one Twitter tweet, "Threaten me or my family and I will use my God-given and law appointed right and duty to kill you."

In another, he stated, "By the way if anyone feels they can't breathe or their lives matter I'll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun," an apparent reference to Garner, who repeatedly said "I can't breathe" while a New York officer held him in chokehold that authorities said contributed to Garner's death.

A bystander's video of Garner's death in which his final words can be heard circulated widely on the internet and through news media, and the Twitter hashtag #icantbreathe has become a slogan linked to the protests, along with the phrase #blacklivesmatter.

Esquivel, who said Monday in a statement that the department did not condone White's views, responded by placing the officer on paid administrative leave while the department investigates the matter.

Randol said the internal probe of White will first determine if there was anything he did that might be criminal, then focus on what the department might do administratively and when finally completed the case would be referred to the City Attorney's office.

The messages conveyed by White on Twitter "do not represent the thoughts and feelings of the San Jose Police Department," Randol said.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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