SAN ANGELO, Texas — San Angelo residents Terry Giroux and Ken Casper are livid that a seminar taught by a former FBI agent to Texas law-enforcement last month has gotten some bad publicity.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement recently rescinded six mandatory credit hours from law-enforcement officials who attended a seminar it originally approved.
“It appears that there was a full-court press done — after the fact — on the TCOLE to say, ‘Hey are you going to stand by (this event)?”‘ Giroux said. “Personally, I think that’s horrible. And I think it is a politically correct move.”
The daylong course “Understanding the Jihadi Threat to America” was taught by John Guandolo — who has called Islam a “barbaric and evil system” — to members of the San Angelo Police Department and the Tom Green County Sheriff’s Office and other Texas law enforcement officials at The Heights Church on May 4.
Giroux, 69, and Casper, 76, said they took issue when TCOLE rescinded accreditation on Guandolo’s seminar because of “outside pressure.”
The pair attended the seminar as private citizens and aren’t directly impacted by TCOLE’s decision. The men, however, are voicing their anger publicly because they believe the situation isn’t fair for the officers and stifles freedom of speech.
“Our first amendment rights to speak out are being seriously challenged, and unless we do speak out we’re going to lose those rights,” Casper said.
The program — co-organized by The Christian Reporter News and the Concho Valley Council of Government — had been approved by TCOLE as continuing education for law enforcement officers.
“We were invited to have officers attend a Concho Valley Council of Government-sponsored training course,” said San Angelo Police Chief Frank Carter. “Free seats were being offered to SAPD officers.”
TCOLE is a state regulatory agency designed to oversee law enforcement training curriculum and has a partnership with CVCOG.
“It was a course that was advertised as one that would receive TCOLE credit,” Tom Green County Sheriff David Jones said.
Each officer is required to receive 40 hours of TCOLE credit every two years.
On May 16, the commission sent a letter to the council of governments rescinding the credits officers earned, despite the prior green light for the course.
Giroux and Casper said they are unhappy with TCOLE’s decision because they argued the commission had time to review the course material before approving Guandolo’s class.
The Texas Tribune reported TCOLE first told them it sent a staff member to observe the class and saw “no concerning material that would cause reason to deny continuing education hours for law enforcement attendees.”
Both Giroux and Casper said TCOLE’s later decision was solely to appease special interest groups.
Advocacy groups — including Muslim Advocates and the Southern Poverty Law Center — asked the commission to rescind the credits. The groups said Guandolo’s seminars promote racial and ethnic profiling and include anti-Muslim rhetoric and conspiracy theories, such as Muslim groups conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government to implement Sharia law.
“Mr. Guandolo’s long and well-documented history of spreading anti-Muslim sentiment make him woefully unsuited to conduct any training that satisfies TCOLE’s accreditation standards,” the groups said in a letter to the commission. “Numerous law enforcement organizations and community leaders have discredited and repudiated Mr. Guandolo’s trainings after learning more about the gross inaccuracies and biases driving his work, and we urge TCOLE to do the same.”
“Upon review of the recording of the seminar, the Commission shares some of the concerns that we have received from members of the public that the material paints an entire religion with an overly broad brush,” Executive Director Kim Vickers said. “Ultimately, it does not seem to provide any law enforcement training value to attendees.”
Guandolo did not respond to a request for comment.
According to a roster obtained from TCOLE by the Texas Observer through a public information request, 27 people, including a member of the commission, attended Guandolo’s class, which was also open to the public.
“TCOLE made the decision and is the final say regarding the issuance of training hours,” Carter said. “We have not discussed the issue of hours being rescinded by TCOLE with attendees.”
Carter said eight SAPD officers attended the training, which is a small percentage of the department. He said aside from technicalities such as delayed paperwork or missed deadlines on the individual’s part, it’s not normal for TCOLE to remove training hours after they have been credited to an officer.
“It is each officer’s responsibility to make sure they have completed the 40 hours of training by the end of the cycle, or they risk getting their license suspended,” Carter said.
Carter said officers have until Aug. 31, 2019, to meet the 40-hour continuing education requirement and agencies host TCOLE-approved classes locally each month. Officers also can take online courses for credits.
The roster shows four staff members from the Tom Green County Sheriff’s Office attended. Some officials from Angelo State University Police and the San Angelo Fire Department also were listed on the roster.
“The Sheriff’s Office is always working toward keeping this community a safe place to live and work. Any training that we can receive to further that goal is what we strive for,” Jones said. “We also want the training we receive to be of high quality, pertinent to our duties with the information received being accurate and proven. Each course you take must be evaluated for those qualities.”
Giroux and Casper—who said they are former military men— said the event came about when an anonymous donor approached the Christian Reporter News and pitched the idea of having Guandolo come to San Angelo to train local law-enforcement officials.
“I’m former military and I really cherish that,” Giroux said, adding freedom of speech is a God-given right, not a government-given right. “The constitution guarantees that we can say things that are unpopular.”
Kat Rowoldt, founder of Christian Reporter News, stands by the event.
“Mr. Guandolo’s presentation on Islam and its teachings could have been given inside a mosque and would have earned him applause for his depth of understanding and accuracy since he used their Islamic books for documentation of truth. When giving the same lectures outside a mosque to a group of people who are not interested in becoming Muslims, however, he is suddenly reported to be a hatemonger. That’s hypocrisy,” Rowoldt said.
Rowoldt said the program was anonymously funded and no taxpayer money was used.
John Austin Stokes, CVCOG’s executive director, said the extent of CVCOG’s involvement was to pass along information about continuing education opportunities to local law enforcement groups.
“Please note that the Concho Valley Council of Governments and its Academy were neither a host, sponsor, nor endorser of the Training or of Mr. Gaundolo,” Stokes said.
The council has authorization to submit continuing education credits on behalf of any law enforcement officer who voluntarily attends a training that has been qualified by TCOLE under state law, Stokes said.
According to records from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Guandolo has given at least 26 such seminars throughout the U.S. since 2010. San Antonio and Dallas are among the cities listed in Texas, according to its report.
Standard-Times archives show at Guandolo has made at least two other presentations in San Angelo: “Islam & Sharia Law vs. Christianity & US Constitution” in October 2017 and “What Every Christian Needs to Understand About Islam & Sharia Law” in August 2017. Those events were also held at The Heights Church and were free. They were not TCOLE-related.
“If all I can say is what you like to hear, then I haven’t gotten freedom of speech,” Casper said. “I don’t like it when people make statements that are anti-Semitic, that are from Nazis that are anti-religion or all this sort of thing, but I acknowledge their right to say it. And I also insist on my right to challenge them on it.”
Find the original story at gosanangelo.com.