Six Miami firefighters — including the son of a former fire chief — have been cut loose from the department after authorities found a noose over a black colleague’s photos which had also been defaced with sexually explicit images.
An internal investigation was triggered by an incident on Sept. 9, the Miami Herald reported. Police were initially called to a station house on a report of vandalism. The case, however, was handed over to the department’s internal affairs division. Investigators spent six weeks investigating 12 firefighters, eventually determining the men were responsible for “sexually explicit and racially offensive conduct” and should be terminated, according to a statement from Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso. It’s not clear whether or how the other six will be disciplined.
The Miami firefighters union has agreed to try to get the men’s jobs back, according to ABC News in Miami.
The firings are significant in that they play into a larger history of racist behavior in the department stretching back decades.
The Herald reported Wednesday the six firefighters — William W. Bryson, Kevin Meizoso, David Rivera, Justin Rumbaugh, Harold Santana and Alejandro Sese — were all responsible for the defacing of family photos belonging to a black lieutenant, taking the pictures of his wife, children and his mother out of their picture frames and drawing “graphic and obscene phallic renderings” on the images, before returning them to their frames.
All the firefighters denied placing the noose or any knowledge of it, according to a memorandum summarizing the internal investigation. Investigators were unable to determine who was responsible for it.
According to the report from the internal investigation, witnesses told investigators that Sese retrieved the photos from the firefighter’s dorm room and “initiated the topic of drawing penises on the photos, including encouraging others to do so. According to the report, Sese admitted “bringing them downstairs and returning them to the room” of the firefighter.
Three firefighters, Meizoso, Rumbaugh and Santana admitted to defacing the photos when questioned under oath, the report said. Rumbaugh told investigators he felt “peer-pressured” by Sese into defacing the photos.
He also said “Sese contacted him to omit some facts from his statement, such as who brought the photos down and whose idea it was.”
According to the internal investigation report, Sese denied “encouraging anyone to draw.” He also denied “advising other [sic] to omit information.” Sese also denied involvement and knowledge of the noose. In Sese’s termination letter, the city stated he had “engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer” due to the photo defacement. The letter also stated that Sese “provided false information regarding [his knowledge and role in the defacing of the photos” despite being given a direct order to tell the truth.
Bryson allegedly failed to stop the racist stunt and ignored requests to report the incident to department higher-ups. Bryson, in sworn testimony, denied “seeing the photos defaced or being present while they were being defaced.” His father, William “Shorty” Bryson, is a former fire chief for both the Miami and Miami-Dade departments.
The elder Bryson was also caught up in his own scandal involving race. In 1992, William Bryson was the head of the city’s fire union when he booted 62 black firemen from the organization. The black firefighters had vocally complained about race barring their promotions within the department. The Miami New Times reported in 2011 that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found Bryson’s actions discriminatory, and ordered the union to restore the black members and compensate them for unpaid benefits.
The younger Bryson and the other five firefighters terminated after the noose incident can appeal their terminations under the city’s civil service procedure. Other employees could also be terminated. The city is holding a news conference on Friday to address the scandal.
Fred Delgado, the president of the Miami International Association of Firefighters, told NBC 6 the union has “not yet been provided with all the information that the city relied upon in making the decisions it did today.”
He added: “We are very disturbed by the allegations and look forward to the opportunity to review all the facts.”
Clarification: This article, published on Nov. 2, has been updated to clarify that the internal investigation was unable to discern who had placed the noose and the firefighters’ denials of placing or knowledge of the noose, as well as to reflect later developments.