Six Miami firefighters who lost their jobs after a black colleague found lewd images drawn on his family photos and a noose in his fire station dorm room are fighting to be reinstated.
Captain William W. Bryson, Lt. Alejandro Sese, and firefighters Kevin Meizoso, David Rivera, Justin Rumbaugh and Harold Santana have filed grievances contesting their terminations, according to Miami’s firefighter union, which will decide Tuesday whether to support their claims.
The men were fired last month after firefighter veteran Robert S. Webster returned to his room at fire station 12 on Sept. 10 and found that someone had taken his family photos, removed the pictures, drawn penis images on the photos and then returned them to their frames. Someone also draped a noose over his belongings.
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Interviews summarized in an investigative memo described an open conversation among the fired men about personal items being left out inside the station that prompted Sese to complain about Webster’s photos in their dorm room. According to the memo, Sese retrieved the pictures and brought up the idea of defacing them. After Meizoso, Rumbaugh and Santana participated in drawing lewd images on the photos, Rivera returned them to their picture frames. Bryson was aware of the vandalism, according to summarized interviews.
In all, 11 firefighters were punished and the entire station was transferred. The six who were fired either disclosed their participation or were found to have participated in the vandalism on some level, although no one admitted creating or placing the noose, city officials say.
But the fired men believe they’ve been unjustly punished and, according to firefighter union president Lt. Freddy Delgado, filed grievances with the union shortly after they were terminated. Their filings are now in the hands of the executive board of Miami’s chapter of the International Association of Firefighters, which will decide Tuesday whether to support the fired men or leave them to push on their own to regain their jobs.
The Miami chapter of the NAACP has urged the union not to support the fired men.
“This harassment rose to the level of direct attack on the African American community, all women and others of good will,” Miami chapter leaders wrote in a letter to Delgado. “Indeed, it is not just Miami that is watching this as it is reverberating across the country.”
Delgado said the union’s executive board will review the facts, and received an extension from fire department administrators on a decision for each of the six men’s cases through the end of the year in order to receive additional public documents from the city.
“It’s an objective process,” Delgado said. “In this case all six have admitted to one thing or another, so we’re not here to find innocence or guilt. We’re here to figure out whether those who were disciplined were disciplined excessively or not.”