A Miami fire chief is standing behind his decision to fire six firefighters accused of placing a noose on a Black colleague’s family photo and drawing lewd images on a photo of his wife.
City of Miami Department of Fire-Rescue Chief Joseph Zahralban said he was appalled after learning of the disturbing “prank” reported at Miami Fire Station No. 12 earlier this year. On Wednesday, he announced the firings of Capt. William W. Bryson, Justin Rumbaugh, Harold Santana, Alejandro Sese, David Rivera and Kevin Meizoso after city investigators uncovered “sexually explicit and racially offensive conduct” by the employees, The Miami Herald reported.
The firings come after a lengthy investigation into the Sept. 9 incident, in which someone fashioned a noose out of twine and placed it on a family photo of a Black lieutenant at the station. Authorities interviewed more than 20 people under oath and investigated nearly a dozen firefighters to get to the bottom of the situation. Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso said personnel assigned to the station were transferred after the incident was reported.
“We cannot and will not tolerate behavior that is disrespectful, hurtful and compromises the integrity of the department and the City of Miami,” Alfonso told the newspaper. “It is the policy of the [city] to provide a workplace for all employees that is free from intimidation, threats or violent acts.”
In all, 11 firefighters were suspended with pay ahead of Wednesday’s terminations, he added. Five others remain employed by the department but are under intense scrutiny.
In addition to the noose, sources with knowledge of the matter said the Black lieutenant’s colleagues drew “obscene phallic renderings” on several photos, including one of his wife and another of his children and their grandma. Ironically, the station where the incident occurred was dedicated to honor Willie Waters, the first African-American firefighter hired within a major department in Florida, local station ABC 10 reported.
Termination letters sent to the firefighters explained that Sese was the one who came up with the idea to deface the photos and retrieved them. Meanwhile, Meizoso, Santana and Rumbaugh scrawled penile drawings on the photos, and Rivera later returned them to their frames. Bryson is accused of turning a blind eye to the vandalism and brushing off requests from subordinates to report the incident.
It’s still unclear who fashioned the noose, however.
Per the city’s civil service procedures, the ousted firefighters can dispute their terminations. More employees could be reprimanded in the coming weeks, though they will likely just be suspensions and demotions, according to the Miami Herald.
NBC 6 reported that this is the second incident involving a noose and firefighters in South Florida this year. In June, a noose was found hung over the chair of a Black firefighter recruit in Pompano Beach.