A San Jose police officer who set off a nationwide firestorm with a series of tweets appearing to target the Black Lives Matter movement is apologizing publicly for the first time.
Officer Philip White was fired last October but quietly reinstated after a closed independent arbitration hearing in February. City leaders are expected to decide Tuesday whether to appeal that decision.
White has kept a low profile since returning to the force and did not openly address the controversy until an exclusive interview Monday with NBC Bay Area. He also released a public apology in the form of a letter.
White said his comments were actually in response to threats he had received.
The tweets — which some believe took aim at a movement launched after a string of deadly police shootings — sparked outrage around the country.
"Threaten me or my family and I will use my God-given and law-appointed right and duty to kill you #COPSLIVESMATTER," one tweet read.
Another said: "By the way if anyone feels they can't breathe or their lives matter I'll be at the movies tonight...off duty..carrying my gun."
In an interview at his home Monday, White said he wants the public to hear what he has to say — including that he's sorry.
"There are people out there that think I'm a monster, that I have racial tendencies, that I'm a racist and I'm not," White said, adding that he did not offer an explanation before because of the confidential arbitration process and out of concern for his family's safety.
He said the tweets, perceived by many as targeting Black Lives Matter supporters, were actually in response to viable threats he received after posting negative comments about anti-police protests.
"I actually received a telephone threat at one of my workplaces, saying that this person would come up and kill me and my family," White explained.
He said the person threatened to attack him when his family went out in public, which is why he tweeted about carrying a gun "at the movies" but never said which theater he had planned to attend.
A police investigation confirmed the threats.
Even though his tweets were actually aimed at the people who threatened him — not Black Lives Matter supporters — White said he still considers himself in the wrong.
"I never wanted to make excuses for my actions; they were inappropriate. There's no doubt about that," he said. "And if I could take it back, I would. The only thing I can do is apologize for them."
When asked what he thought when he saw the words he had written, White said: "Made me sick and made my family sick."
White's wife, Maryanne, a Filipino-American, is stunned by the accusations of racism because their family is multi-racial.
"We just said, 'They don't know.' I mean, our family members consist of African American, Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Vietnamese," she said.
White said he apologized immediately to the police chief, the department and community leaders. He also submitted a letter of apology to the city manager, which he said shows he has "been remorseful from the start."
Before the Twitter controversy, White had an untarnished record with the police department and had received numerous accolades throughout his 19-year career.
Police officials have acknowledged White had no prior disciplinary problems and had high marks for his work in various roles, including starting a program in schools to steer children away from gangs.
When asked about the criticism he has received, White acknowledged "that hurts, especially with my 19-year career [and] my track record."
White said he hopes to resume his role of working in the community where he established numerous partnerships.
"I want to set a precedent here," White said. "I want people to know that it's OK to 'own up' to what you do. Own up for a mistake."
It's still unclear how White's public apologies will resonate with city officials and community leaders. But they are certain to make their feelings known more on Tuesday as White's words and actions, past and present, are scrutinized.