News of the disciplinary action taken against Rialto fire Capt. Steve May, engineer Nick Delia and firefighter-paramedic Andy Lore comes on the heels of a scandal at the Los Angeles Fire Department involving allegations of racism that prompted a multimillion-dollar lawsuit and ultimately forced the resignation of Fire Chief William Bamattre.
The three Rialto firefighters facing discipline admitted to making inappropriate racial remarks.
Rialto Fire Chief Stephen Wells recommended the demotions in May following an investigation launched by a complaint from a black firefighter, Victor Gregory, to a union representative. But it was the admissions of May, Delia and Lore that served as the basis of the discipline, and not a direct result of Gregory's complaint, which was the springboard for the investigation, officials said.
Wells recommended that May be demoted from captain to firefighter and Delia - a former department spokesman - demoted from engineer to firefighter-paramedic. He recommended thatLore, a firefighter-paramedic, receive a pay cut equivalent to suspension without pay for six 24-hour shifts, court records show.
The three firefighters have contested their discipline and have taken court action alleging their punishment is too severe and that Fire Department administrators have not produced complete documentation of evidence gathered during the investigation that includes transcripts of interviews with Gregory and four other firefighters.
Stuart D. Adams, the attorney representing the trio of firefighters, emphasizes that Fire Department administrators have intentionally withheld the complete transcript of Gregory's initial complaint and released only partial transcripts of interviews with other firefighters.
"We want to see all of their statements because these are key witnesses in the investigation," Adams said. "We've never been provided with the complaining witness' statement, so we don't know what he said. And as you could see from the L.A. case, what the complaining witness says and does is quite relevant."
Los Angeles firefighter Tennie Pierce filed a lawsuit against his department alleging fellow firefighters laced his stationhouse dinner with dog food in 2004. The City Council initially agreed to settle the suit for $2.7 million, but public uproar and photos posted on a talk radio station's Web site of Pierce engaging in the hazing of other firefighters prompted Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to veto the settlement. The scandal led to the resignation of the fire chief.
Steven Filarsky, who is representing the city of Rialto in the local case, said transcripts of Gregory's statements were not submitted to Adams because Gregory's statements did not serve as the basis for the discipline of the three firefighters.
"Under the law, the employees are entitled to the materials upon which the discipline is based, and the discipline is not based on Mr. Gregory's statement. It's based on the statements of the firefighters who are accused," Filarsky said.
The most lurid details emerge from official documents of the investigation of May, who admitted during a taped interview in March to making racially derogatory remarks about Gregory in front of other firefighters. May also admitted to making racially derogatory remarks about Rialto residents, and may have used racial epithets when referring to Hurricane Katrina victims receiving credit cards, court records show.
May also admitted to using racial slurs on Sept. 11, 2005, when referring to former Rialto Police Chief Michael Myers and Deputy Police Chief Arthur Burgess during a morning lineup in front of his crew. He said he apologized to his crew the next day, records show.
On Sept. 28, 1998, May was demoted from captain to firefighter following an investigation into similar allegations of using racial slurs on duty.
Delia was recommended for demotion after administrators learned, among other things, that he asked a fellow firefighter "Where's the token black guy?" when referring to Gregory, and sent racist jokes via e-mail to other firefighters.
The allegations against Delia were compounded because on Feb. 16, 2005, he received one day off without pay for gaining access to a confidential computer file containing "extremely sensitive material," then called in other firefighters to look at the file, court records show.
Administrators learned Lore may have used racial epithets, was receiving or sending pornographic e-mails, and took a department-issued gun home without notifying his duty chief. When he was called at home and told to return the gun to the station immediately, Lore returned to the station "visibly upset," slamming doors and making derogatory remarks about the department in front of a battalion chief, records show.
Gregory has been a Rialto firefighter for nearly five years. He said the problems started when he was assigned to May's shift about three years ago.
Overall, he said he is satisfied with the outcome of the investigation and the disciplinary action taken.
"If anything, maybe it was too lenient," Gregory, 34, said. "The only reason I say that is the lead person in my complaint, Captain May, has had a history of this before."
Gregory, who was an ambulance driver for another fire department before joining Rialto's, said he felt compelled to report the actions of his colleagues.
"To me, it's behavior that just doesn't belong in the fire service, and I needed to speak out on it," Gregory said, declining to elaborate on the nature of his complaint.
Adams said the firefighter's response of legal action is a means to ensure that fire administrators are playing fair, and not to fight allegations of racism.
"This case is not about protecting racism. That has been rejected. We just want to know, `Is this discipline fair?"' Adams said. "If we were given all this material, this case wouldn't have been filed."
The legal action - a writ of mandate filed on behalf of the Rialto Firefighters Association - is meant to protect the due process of firefighters, Adams said.
Capt. Randy Ammons, president of the Rialto Firefighters Association, said the union has worked doggedly with administrators to try to come to an amicable solution, but the process has been met with failure, and morale is low at the department.
"Every step of the way the fire administration has refused to work with us, and we've been forced to go through the courts," Ammons said. "The behavior that the people are accused of, they'll admit to, but we just don't believe that the case that they have made is really what the initial complaint was about."
Ammons said, to his knowledge, Gregory's initial complaint had nothing to do with racism.
Adams said May, Delia and Lore have expressed remorse about their actions and want to move on, and have "vowed to work to change the environment" at the Fire Department.
Rialto's fire chief stands by his actions and those of his department, and said none of the accused firefighters' rights have been impinged upon.
"I think we've followed the prescribed course of action," Wells said. "We followed the law."
Looking at May's background of discipline by the department, Wells said he also had to take into consideration May's more than 20 years of service, and weigh it out to determine the best course of action.
"He's now at a firefighter rank, and anything beyond firefighter are promotional opportunities," Wells said, adding that May will have to work his way up the ladder to achieve the rank of captain again.
"He'd have to apply and to perform well on the test and compete with other people vying for those positions," said Wells. "I don't think there's anything we can do legally from preventing him from trying in the future."
BS Ranch Perspective:
Here is the problem when you accept a Civil Servants Job, CHECK YOUR CIVIL RIGHTS AT THE DOOR!! Any other place of employment would not be able to do any action where they would loose any pay, I don't believe that they would even be able to do anything to the effect that they would loose their "Rank" in any other job in the United States. No, it is just Law Enforcement, and the Fire Services. Now What did Michael Richards Loose. Michael Richards if you recall was the comedian that had a Heckler in the audience give him a thing or two about a thing or two, basically what was said by the person was that, Michael Richards isn't funny!! Michael Richards took that really hard, I guess he had been working hard on the jokes and material that he was giving out and when the man had said that he wasn't funny, WELL!! That was IT! He started to just, pull out the word that if was said in any other place where there was a Group of African American's he might have been not so lucky to be able to say anything more. Michael Richards. is one that really should count his blessings.
Truly, I believe that Mike was trying to be FUNNY! I think that he was WHIPPING OUT What he thought was JOKES, that any say African American might say in Gist, when someone had burned his set in a comedy club. Richards, was blown away because he started to say the " N " Word, and not only did he say it once but he said it four times in a sentence about the Blacks that were in the terrace saying that his show was not funny. The room was not laughing, there was a obvious hush and well "STUN" or "SHOCK" that came over the room. When Richards tried to recover with the AAAAGH, OOOOOH!, the damage was done, he should have been hurt a little bit so that he would know right away that he was not doing the right thing, but the people that he was insulting were vary adult about it they calmly got up, and walked out, as did, approximately 90% of the room Black or White it didn't matter!
There was one Black comedian that once said during the middle of his Comedy routine, that had that specific " N " Word in it many times, and people laughed in his comedy routine. I admit I was laughing too, the jokes where funny. The comedian said one very profound thing about what was going on, and that was the following!!
The " N " Word is just that, a Word, the more that it is used in making of jokes and the like the Less Power that it will Yield!! The Less Power that this Word has the Better, now these are not my words, these are the words of the comedian that I watched his show, I found that he was very right, and that the more that we react and give power to this Word The more power that the word has, The more that it is used and thrown around the less power that the Word has!!
Yes, the history of this word, was a bad one, because it referred to the ownership of that person! That is Completely and utterly wrong, today, Slavery was outlawed, and the word, maybe should have been outlawed, but people in their stupidity found time to use it to hurt people, which is wrong. and that is the context that we must get away from. The context that we must regard to, is that of a very smart Negro, not the other slang word that the word Negro grew into over the years.
One day I Hope that the Word is totally weak and disregarded as just what it is, a Word, and nothing more!!
WE AS SOCIETY NEED TO START SOMEWHERE AND MAYBE THIS SHOULD BE WHERE WE START...RIGHT WHERE D.L. HUGLEY SAID OR, WAS IT THE COMEDIAN THAT WALKED AWAY FROM THE COMEDY NETWORK (DAVID CHAPPERAL) EITHER WAY, WHICH EVER SAID IT THEY WERE RIGHT, AND THERE NEEDS TO BE A STARTING POINT TO MAKE IT FUZZY, AND OBSCURE AS THE STARTING POINT!!!