Chatham County Sheriff fires employee for racist remarks in viral video

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A man seen on video making racist comments to a group of young college students speaking Spanish is finding himself out of a job.

The man, now identified as Walter Browning, was terminated from the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) on Wednesday. News 3 is told he worked there as a Jail Maintenance Mechanic for the past three years.

“The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office is going to distance themselves from people like this,” said Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher. “We’re not going to tolerate it and that’s the end of the subject.”

Wilcher spoke to reporters on Thursday morning. A statement from his office indicated that CCSO officials became aware of the existence of a cell phone recording involving Browning and unknown persons on Sunday, Sept. 22.

That’s a day after Christina Riofrio, a Savannah College of Art and Design student, posted the video of her encounter with Browning on Twitter.

“I wish I could have said a lot of things, but at that time I was really mad and I couldn’t even speak,” she told News 3.

Riofrio said she and several of her friends were at the McDonald’s on Broughton Street Saturday night when a stranger, now identified as Browning, interrupted their conversation.

She said she was speaking to friends in Spanish, as they often do, when Browning began telling them to “Shut up” and “Speak English.”

“Actually, one of my friends cried at that moment. I felt really bad for her,” said Riofrio. “But, I didn’t want him to see us cry, see us as weak, acting weak because we are not.”

In the video, Browning is heard talking about how he has been living in the United States for years and suggested that Riofrio immigrated to the country “on a f—— boat.”

The 19-year-old says she was born in California and her parents are from Ecuador.

Riofrio posted the video on Twitter, which was viewed and shared at an astounding rate.

The video made it’s way to CCSO, launching an internal investigation. According to the sheriff’s office, “It was found that Mr. Browning did make racist statements to this group of students.”

In the video, Riofrio tells Browning that he is a racist. “I know I am,” he said.

CCSO officials did not disclose what Browning may have said to them about his remarks. Wilcher only said that he “would not tolerate people who work for him doing that out in public.”

“You might have your own personal beliefs or whatnot, but don’t say it around me, and you’re not going to work for me,” the sheriff added.

One woman representing Savannah Latinos posted her thanks online to Wilcher for his actions in terminating Browning and said she hopes “Georgians can move forward to a more peaceful time.”

In a response to Riofrio’s post, Twitter user Elizabeth Ronson wrote: “I’m so sorry you went through this, I’m so sorry so many Spanish speakers go through this.”

Riofrio said, however, that the video brought a mixed response.

“Some people tweeted like ‘You shouldn’t be speaking Spanish it’s annoying to hear. I’m Mexican and I don’t do that,'” she explained, adding, “You shouldn’t do that you should be proud of where you come from.”

The altercation eventually got the attention of other customers and employees, and at the end of the viral video, a McDonald’s employee is heard asking Browning to leave.

“We aren’t going to have all that,” an employee said in the video.

“A lot of people say, ‘Are you okay, are you afraid?’ But I am not, actually,” Riofrio said. “I am never going to stop speaking Spanish in front of white people, like I feel proud of where I am come from.”

The original video posted by Riofrio has over 15,000 retweets, more than 47,00 likes and 1,000 replies from other users as of 5 p.m. Thursday. It has been re-posted by multiple other Twitter users.

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