Six firefighters in Miami were fired Wednesday after a September incident in which someone hung a noose over a photo of a black colleague’s family and drew lewd images on a picture of his wife.
During a police investigation into the Sept. 9 incident at a city fire station, more than 20 people were interviewed under oath, and nearly a dozen firefighters were investigated, the Miami Herald reports. Of those investigated, five remain employed by the department but are under close scrutiny.
Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso said in a statement that investigators had uncovered “sexually explicit and racially offensive conduct” by the city’s employees. After the incident was reported, personnel assigned to the station were transferred, and 11 firefighters were relieved of their duty with pay.
“We cannot and will not tolerate behavior that is disrespectful, hurtful and compromises the integrity of the department and the City of Miami,” Alfonso said.
Police initially looked into a potential case of vandalism at the station, but that ultimately turned into a civil investigation that was turned over to executives at the city’s Department of Fire-Rescue.
A noose made of twine was hung over a family photo belonging to a black lieutenant at the station. Lewd pictures were also drawn over several photos of his family members, including one of his wife and one of his children with their grandmother.
The six firefighters terminated were William W. Bryson, Kevin Meizoso, David Rivera, Justin Rumbaugh, Harold Santana and Alejandro Sese. Their termination letters said that the firefighters “defaced several personal photos of a fellow firefighter with graphic and obscene phallic renderings.”
According to the letters, it was Sese’s idea to deface the photographs, and he was the one who retrieved them. Meizoso, Rumbaugh and Santana reportedly drew lewd, phallic images on the photos. Rivera reportedly returned them to their picture frames. Bryson allegedly failed to stop the vandalism, then ignored requests to come forward and report the incident.
Investigators were unable to determine who made the noose.
Freddy Delgado, president of Miami’s International Association of Firefighters, told the Herald that the union was made aware of the incident when it was discovered by Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban, but remains unclear about the facts of the investigation. Delgado believes that people shouldn’t judge the fired firefighters without knowing more about what happened.
“We expect all of our members to be provided a safe, comfortable workplace and also to fair and complete investigations and just discipline when it’s warranted,” Delgado said. “We have not yet been provided with all the information that the city relied upon in making the decisions it did today. We are very disturbed by the allegations and look forward to the opportunity to review all the facts.”
The firefighters have the opportunity to dispute their terminations under the city’s civil service procedures.
According to the Herald, more employees could be suspended or demoted in the coming weeks.
“It is the policy of the City of Miami to provide a workplace for all employees that is free from intimidation, threats or violent acts,” Alfonso said.
The city will have a press conference to discuss the terminations Friday morning.
Read more at the Miami Herald.