After releasing the pictures of six firefighters fired over an incident in which someone hung a noose over a black lieutenant’s family photos inside a fire station, the city of Miami is now demanding that the media stop showing their pictures.
Just after midnight Friday morning, an assistant city attorney wrote an email to multiple news outlets demanding that the media “cease and desist from further showing the firefighters pictures in your coverage of this event.” Jones said the photos of the six men had been released accidentally.
“As former first responders, their photos are confidential and exempt under Florida’s public disclosure law and should not have been released,” wrote Kevin R. Jones.
The email was sent to the Miami Herald, WFOR, WPLG and the Associated Press, among other media outlets. The Miami Herald has decided to leave the photos on its website.
Jones’ email came about eight hours after a Miami Fire Rescue spokesman released images from the Sept. 9 incident at Miami Fire Station 12, in which several firefighters are accused of taking an African American lieutenant’s family photos from inside a fire station, removing them from their picture frames and drawing penises on them. The pictures were reinserted in their frames and then placed back on a shelf, according to termination letters sent Wednesday.
The release of these photographs, which now appear in several media reports including reports on the internet … may subject the City to potential civil liability for the unwarranted disclosure of public records.
Osnat K. Rind, attorney for Miami’s International Association of Firefighters
A noose made of thin white rope was then hung over one of the photos. Miami Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban has referred to the incident as “a hideous, distasteful act of hate.”
Robert S. Webster, the African-American firefighter and 17-year department veteran whose photos were defaced, told WPLG in an interview that his “first reaction was basically disbelief.”
“I knew it wasn’t a joke because of the progression of little things that were taking place,” he said.
Firefighters William W. Bryson, Kevin Meizoso, David Rivera, Justin Rumbaugh, Harold Santana and Alejandro Sese were fired Wednesday, as first reported by the Miami Herald. Another five employees remain under investigation and are subject to possible discipline.
The photos of the firefighters are part of this story. If we had received them from any other source, they also would have been published without hesitation. We have no intention of un-publishing them.
Rick Hirsch, Miami Herald managing editor
On Thursday, ahead of a press conference scheduled for Friday morning with Miami’s mayor, Miami Fire Rescue also released the fired firefighters’ department photos even though Florida law exempts pictures of current and former firefighters from disclosure under the state’s broad public records laws. That evening, Miami City Attorney Victoria Mendez received an email from an attorney representing Miami’s fire union warning that the city may have set itself up for a lawsuit.
“The release of these photographs, which now appear in several media reports including reports on the internet, is inconsistent with the City’s legal obligation to consider the underlying purpose of the statute, and may subject the City to potential civil liability for the unwarranted disclosure of public records,” attorney Osnat K. Rind wrote at 9:41 p.m. “The Union requests that you cease and desist in this regard.”
The Miami Herald has made the decision to leave the firefighters’ photos online. Attorneys representing the newspaper said there is no obligation to take them down, since they were legally obtained.
“The photos of the firefighters are part of this story. If we had received them from any other source, they also would have been published without hesitation,” Rick Hirsch, Miami Herald managing editor, wrote in an email. “We have no intention of un-publishing them.”