Valpo council president apologizes for social media comment after police-involved shooting

Robert Cotton, president of the Valparaiso City Council, has issued a public apology for a remark he made on his personal Facebook page about police actions in a fatal shooting on April 25 and lauded the “skill and professionalism” of police that day.

The remark by Cotton, D-2nd, raised the ire of the Valparaiso chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, which demanded he retract his statement, apologize and step aside as the council president, as first reported in the Post-Tribune.

“My comment was ill-advised, and I regret that I made it without sufficient regard for key details that would have more clearly captured the disposition I have demonstrated on behalf of our police and firefighter, first responders,” Cotton said. “This is an unfortunate situation that reveals ambiguity in my comment, and thus, in the way it was interpreted.”

The Facebook comment, which Cotton confirmed he made and has since been removed from his personal page, was in the days after the shooting death of Caden Mura, 20, of Valparaiso, who police have said displayed a handgun at a Valparaiso park before shooting at police.

Three Valparaiso Police officers and two from the Porter County Sheriff’s Office are on paid administrative leave while the Indiana State Police’s Lowell post investigates the shooting.

Cotton’s comment was in a thread about the shooting, as others discussed why officers didn’t wound Mura to stop him and someone said that wounding a suspect doesn’t stop the threat they pose.

“… yes, I get that, but can’t shake the image in my mind of recklessly inaccurate gunshots being fired by a panicked boy/young man while he is running away from gunshots being fired from the guns of a team of skilled marksmen, that were targeting him,” Cotton said in his comment.

In a letter posted to the FOP’s Facebook page on May 2 and also sent to Cotton, members said they were “expressing our deepest concern and disappointment” regarding Cotton’s statement.

“Your remarks were not only inflammatory but also grossly inaccurate, further exacerbating an already sensitive situation,” said the letter, signed by FOP President Benjamin Teufel, Vice President Joseph Cowser, Treasurer James Bilder and Secretary Michelle Kodicek.

Teufel has said he wrote the letter with the board and the membership approved it before it was sent out on May 2. He did not respond to a request for further comment Thursday.

Cotton previously said he has repeatedly supported the city’s police officers and firefighters in his actions on the city council, and fought for them to get their share of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“To be clear, I applaud the skill and professionalism demonstrated by our officers in the selfless execution of their duty to protect the public and prevent the day’s peril from becoming even more tragic for area businesses, neighborhood residents, and our precious little ones at the nearby Boys and Girls Club,” he said in his apology.

“Our first responders did their job. I am extremely grateful that none of them were injured in this horrible event and that, first and foremost, they kept the public safe from further harm. I am sincere in my regret for the limited choice of words, which I used at the time of the comment,” Cotton said, offering up his statement “as my humble apology to all who I have offended.”

Mayor Jon Costas said he has had multiple conversations with Cotton and the FOP’s leadership, and applauded Cotton’s “heartfelt apology.”

“On behalf of the entire Valparaiso community, I commend our officers for their courageous and selfless actions in preventing what could have been a terribly tragic event. Without hesitation or concern for their own personal safety, they placed themselves in harm’s way to protect innocent life. These officers exemplified our high standards of professionalism and training, and are to be highly commended for their bravery and dedication.”

Cotton was elected to a third term on the city council in November and is the first Black person to be elected to the council. He was selected as its president in January when Democrats overtook Republicans with a 5-2 split after last year’s general election.

He has declined to step down as council president, as requested by the FOP.

“With all things being considered, perhaps the better question is: How does the simple misinterpretation of a comment make it necessary for me to step down?” Cotton said.