Missouri jail officer wore Confederate flag to prom. She calls it ‘southern heritage’
The Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office is defending one of its jail employees for her decision to wear attire featuring the Confederate flag years before she began working for the agency.
Sgt. Samantha Bell, an employee with the jail division for the sheriff’s office, wore a red dress with the stars and bars to her senior prom at Wellington-Napolean High School in 2013. Bell has been employed with the sheriff’s office for the past five years. Lafayette County borders Jackson County to the east.
The Star reached out to the sheriff’s office Thursday after receiving an anonymous tip raising concerns. Lafayette County Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh said the photograph was discussed with Bell.
“Our employee advises she was in no way making a racial statement by wearing this dress. She was simply stating her southern heritage in memory of her deceased Grandmother,” the sheriff said in an email Friday.
Bell did not reply to The Star’s request for comment via Facebook message.
‘My daughter’s heritage and my heritage’
The anonymous tipster claimed Bell was also in the process of becoming a sworn police officer through the Central Missouri Police Academy, a detail The Star was unable to independently verify Friday. The police academy is located at the University of Central Missouri.
In a statement, the police academy declined to identify any of its trainees, citing the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. But the law does not in fact prevent the academy from commenting on such matters.
Holly Pierce, Bell’s mother, said that she made the dress for her daughter. Pierce contended there was nothing racist about the symbol.
“I’m not going to stand out here and freeze to death having this discussion with you,” she told a Star reporter from the driveway of her Mayview, Missouri, home on Friday morning. “You guys really need to take this up with Sam (Bell) and go back and read your history.”
“For you to come on my property and accuse me of something that absolutely has nothing to do with that Confederate flag except for my daughter’s heritage and my heritage is absolutely wrong.”
Racist history of Confederate flag
The Confederate flag is racist and is categorized as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League.
In recent years, Confederate symbols and statues — which were largely erected after the Civil War during the Jim Crow era and into the civil rights movement — have started coming down. Mississippi removed the stars and bars from its state flag in 2020 as several states reckoned with the imagery.
In his message to The Star, Sheriff Alumbaugh said the agency has never received “any complaints or concerns of racial bias” during Bell’s five years of employment there.
Lauren Bonds, legal director for the National Police Accountability Project, said it is important for law enforcement departments to do extensive background checks for past extremist or racist statements or posts.
“I do definitely think that this is going to undermine the trust that folks may have in this particular officer,” Bonds said.
She added that there is a fine line when it comes to disciplinary actions that can be taken against employees who have done things in the past, before they were employed.