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Worcester Correctional Officer's '88' Tattoo Sparks Online Fury

This article is more than 3 years old.

The Worcester County Sheriff's Department briefly suspended its Twitter account because it said it was receiving death threats, after a photo shared on social media brought accusations that one of the department's officers has a neo-Nazi tattoo.

On Wednesday night, the Massachusetts Bail Fund, a nonprofit that pays bail for low-income people, posted a photo it said was of a tattoo belonging to a Worcester corrections officer. The group said the tattoo —  of two 8s —  was a "straight up Nazi tattoo."

According to the Anti-Defamation League's website of hate symbols, "88 is a white supremacist numerical code for 'Heil Hitler.' H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so 88 = HH = Heil Hitler."

The sheriff's office says the tattoo is of the officer's college football number.

On Thursday, after it reactivated its account, the office tweeted: "We do complete background checks on all correctional officers. He was asked about [the] tattoo when he was hired. The Officer is NOT a Nazi & does not hold those beliefs."

The office's Facebook page was still suspended, as of Thursday afternoon.

"We looked into it, it's a tradition," David Tuttle, superintendent of the Worcester County Jail & House of Corrections, told WBUR in an interview.

"You know," Tuttle added, "it's kind of unfortunate that people make these assumptions, post them online, and now we're getting death threats and all these nasty messages about us being racist when it's not true."

Tuttle passed along what he said are photos of the officer:

(Courtesy Worcester County Jail & House of Corrections; composite by WBUR)
(Courtesy Worcester County Jail & House of Corrections; composite by WBUR)

Tuttle wouldn't identify the officer. He added in a statement: "For his safety and to prevent any further misunderstandings, we are asking him to wear a longer tee-shirt to cover it up."

Reached Thursday by WBUR, Atara Rich-Shea, director of operations at the bail fund, criticized the sheriff's department for allowing the employee to display the tattoo, especially while working the front desk where it would be visible to the public, and alleged the sheriff's office knew of the symbolism and still allowed it to be displayed.

Later Thursday, though, the nonprofit released a statement, saying officials there had spoken with Tuttle.

"We discussed the impact of the '88' symbol and how terrifying it is, regardless of the intent behind the tattoo," the statement said. It added: "This individual tattoo needed to be addressed and it was."

This article was originally published on August 02, 2018.

Benjamin Swasey Twitter Digital Manager
Ben is WBUR's digital news manager.

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Jonathan Cain Twitter Executive Producer, All Things Considered
Jonathan Cain is the executive producer for WBUR's All Things Considered and edits afternoon newscasts.

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