Tennessee Police Officer Resigns over 'Forrest Gump' Blackface Photo

A police officer in Tennessee has resigned, while another has been reprimanded after they posed for a photo with a child in blackface.

An investigation was launched into Knoxville police officers Leah Miller and Todd MacFaun after they posted the picture on their personal Facebook pages over Halloween weekend last year.

Police spokesman Scott Erland told Newsweek that Miller and MacFaun, who are married, had watched Forrest Gump with MacFaun's two daughters and decided to dress as characters from the film for Halloween.

One of the children, dressed as the character Bubba, wore Army fatigues and had her face painted black, Knox News reported.

Knoxville police chief Eve Thomas requested that the department's internal affairs unit open an investigation on November 3 after being made aware of the photo.

Miller resigned before the investigation was concluded, effective December 15, Erland said.

Tom Hanks and Mykelti Williamson
Tom Hanks and Mykelti Williamson in the 1994 film Forrest Gump. Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

The investigation found that both officers had violated two sections of the Knoxville Police Department's code of conduct—unbecoming or inappropriate conduct and the department's social media policy.

"Though it was apparent that Officers MacFaun and Miller did not have malicious intentions, the costume reflected poor judgment, was entirely inappropriate given the long history of the use of blackface to oppress and stereotype the black community, and has no place in society," Erland said.

MacFaun received a written reprimand and will receive additional cultural bias training, Erland said.

A "great deal of consideration" went into determining the appropriate disciplinary action for MacFaun, Erland said, including his "exemplary performance history at the KPD, his genuine acceptance of responsibility and public apology, and his commitment to learn and grow from this experience."

MacFaun has returned to his previous assignment in the organized crime unit. Both Miller and MacFaun were temporarily reassigned while the investigation took place.

Miller and MacFaun told investigators "they were unaware of the potentially offensive and racially insensitive nature of the costumes, and that they never intended to harm or offend anyone," Erland said.

"They also expressed that the particular costume involving blackface was not racially motivated, nor was it intended to represent an offensive historically racial stereotype. Additionally, both Officer MacFaun and Miller expressed their sincere regret for the harm this might have caused and took responsibility for their actions, which reflected poorly on the KPD and the City of Knoxville."

In a statement, Thomas said: "I was disappointed in the severe lapse in judgement shown by Officers MacFaun and Miller that resulted in the public depiction of blackface, which should deeply offend us all.

"Though their actions were done only in the spirit of Halloween, those actions were hurtful and insensitive. I will not tolerate, accept or condone offensive or racially insensitive behavior of any kind."

She added: "Officer MacFaun has accepted responsibility for his actions, shown an understanding of the painful history evoked by the depiction of blackface and acknowledged the need to learn from this experience. We feel confident that Officer MacFaun will learn from this, receive the appropriate training, and continue to be an outstanding public servant."

In a statement to Newsweek, Knoxville mayor Indya Kincannon said: "Police Chief Eve Thomas and I have reviewed the findings of the IAU investigation and believe that officer Todd MacFaun now fully understands the hurt he has caused and has made amends. Regardless of intention, the use of blackface, under any circumstance, is racist, offensive and inappropriate."