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Harford real estate agent under fire for racially insensitive comments posted on Instagram

A Harford County real estate agent, and the county’s association of Realtors, has come under fire after he posted racially insensitive comments to Instagram.

In several Instagram posts, some dating back to at least 2016, Realtor Ryan Jones used language that many online found offensive. In once instance, Jones posted a picture of him and another man at Boone Hall Plantation in South Carolina on April 19 with the caption “If you were cotton, I’d pick you.” Jones and others continued to make cotton-related remarks on the post as others expressed concern, though some took it as a joke.

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Issues of racism and police brutality have been brought to the national spotlight after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last month. Floyd’s death has prompted protests across the county, including some in Bel Air and Havre de Grace.

Jones works in the Bel Air office of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty, according to its website. The company distanced itself from his comments, saying they do not represent the company’s views.

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Karmela Lejarde, vice president of marketing for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty said the company does not condone Jones’ remarks, which are not reflective of the organization.

“In April, we were made aware that one of our real estate agents, Ryan Jones, made racially insensitive remarks on social media. As a company, we support and strictly adhere to the Fair Housing laws of our country and reject racism of any kind," Lejarde wrote in an email. "We conducted an investigation into the matter and have been actively working with Mr. Jones to address the situation. We are unable to further elaborate because this is a personnel issue.”

Jones’ Instagram post was forwarded to Berkshire Hathaway to Kodi Seaton, a resident of Washington, D.C. Seaton runs a satirical Instagram account about dating as a minority in a large metropolitan area — keeping it lighthearted, he said — but the oblique reference to slavery motivated him to dig through other posts on Jones’ account. Seaton said he saw more examples of racially insensitive comments and captions, so he called it out, taking screenshots and sending them to the agency.

“I was not in the outing business,” he said. “I think it is just really important that the story is told because we are in a time right now where racism is so pervasive.”

The company posted to a response to Seton on its Twitter account April 20 addressing Jones’ Instagram posts. “Thank you for making us aware of this situation. The opinions/comments expressed by this individual are not consistent with our company policies & views. We acknowledge the seriousness of this matter & will take the appropriate action upon completion of our internal investigation.”

In another post flagged by Seaton, a commenter wrote to Jones that he makes America great — playing off President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again" — to which Jones responded “I’d keep you on my side of the wall.” Another caption below a 2016 photo of Jones in a bathrobe states “There’s more than just murder in Baltimore, there’s a Four Seasons.”

In response to the concern, Jones posted to Instagram the following statement: “there was absolutely no ill intent, but I regret being so extremely tone deaf and insensitive.” He also apologized for his “interactions with accounts," and called his posts a “lapse in judgement.” Seaton said this statement was posted April 21.

The dates of the posts were not able to be independently verified because the account has since been deleted, but some posts survive on an Instagram hashtag.

Reached for comment on Friday, Jones referred questions to a Berkshire Hathaway representative.

Calls to the manager of the Bel Air office of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty, where Jones works, were not returned.

On June 4, the Harford County Association of Realtors posted a statement to its Facebook page on the death of Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died in police custody. The statement said that the organization was in agreement with other associations in Maryland that have taken stances against racism.

But the statement did not stay up for long as comments flooded in about Jones’ posts. In response, the association said it did not have to post anything before noting that one of the people commenting was not a Realtor. The statement was taken down shortly thereafter.

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Questions sent to the association’s CEO Kathy McFadden via email did not receive a response. The association’s board chair George B. Hall also could not be reached for comment.

PenFed Realty is an independently owned and operated franchisee of BHH Affiliates, another company representative explained in an email to Seaton. As such, Berkshire Hathaway does not directly control day-to-day activities of its franchisees or their independent contractors, she wrote. The franchisees handle employee matters locally.

“I reached out to the managing broker of PenFed Realty and have been advised that the situation is currently being addressed with Mr. Jones in a manner deemed appropriate by PenFed,” wrote Jenny Moyer, the director of network services operations for HSF Affiliates, which operates Berkshire Hathaway.

Seaton said he did not want to see Jones fired but felt he had to say something.

“I do not necessarily need this person to be fired; I am not out for blood. What I am concerned about is if this person is working in a community ... and representing them to the best of his ability and cultural understanding,” he said. “You just want to know that people will think twice before behaving like that again.”

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