Days after the firing of six firefighters from a Miami station where a noose was found hanging over a black firefighter's family photo ruined by lewd drawings, city officials expressed their fury over the incident during a Friday press conference.
Termination letters sent to The Associated Press on Thursday said the fired firefighters drew or helped draw pictures of penises on personal photos of a colleague. Two of them were supervisors. One of them failed to report the incident and lied to investigators and the other one.
"What happened is difficult to digest," Mayor Tomas Regalado said Friday in front of City Hall in Coconut Grove. " The city of Miami is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. Everyone looks different, but we all live, work and play together."
Photos released by the department show the defaced family photos. A noose hangs over one photo and the others have lewd, obscene images drawn on them.
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The letters don't say who created the noose, as city manager Daniel Alfonso says the investigation continues and none of the men fired admitted to placing the noose so that could not be placed in their termination letters.
"In the Miami Fire Department, we hold honor, integrity and respect for our fellow firefighters in the highest regard," Fire Chief Joseph Zahralban said. "If you do not believe in this philosophy, I promise you will struggle in our organization."
A Miami Fire Rescue Department public information officer said the incident occurred at Miami Fire Station 12 located at 1455 Northwest 46 Street.
The city manager said he and the fire department's chief found out on Sept. 10 about an incident "involving sexually explicit and racially offensive conduct" and transferred employees to other stations. After the police department began an internal investigation, 11 firefighters were suspended without pay. Of the six firefighters who were fired, two were supervisors who lied to investigators, according to the dismissal letters. One of them is accused of encouraging and helping subordinates draw lewd pictures on the photos.
The fired firefighters were identified as Cpt. William Bryson, Lt. Alejandro Sese, Kevin Meizoso, Justin Rumbaugh, David Rivera and Harold Santana. The firefighters have denied the allegations.
The firefighters have up to 10 days to dispute their termination before Zahralban. During Friday's press conference, Alfonso said the dismissed men could eventually be reinstated if an arbitrator is brought in to resolve the case.
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"It would be sad, but something we should be mindful of," Alfonso said.
It is the second incident involving a noose and firefighters in South Florida this year. In June, a noose was found hanging over the chair of a black firefighter recruit in a training session in Pompano Beach, leading to one firing and three resignations.
Experts have pointed out an increase in the use of hate symbols such as nooses and swastikas around the country. Nooses have appeared in the last few months in numerous public places from museums in Washington to universities in Maryland and Kansas, a high school in Oklahoma and a church in Alabama.