Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

East Lake fire commission backs decision to demote firefighter accused of racial slurs

CLEARWATER — East Lake fire commissioners threw their support behind fire Chief Tom Jamison on Thursday, confirming his decision to strip the rank of a lieutenant accused of racial slurs and lewd text messages.

Jamison demoted firefighter James Finley in May after an investigation suggested he frequently called a Hispanic co-worker "dirty Mexican" and "gay Puerto Rican."

Finley also sent at least two racial text messages to fellow firefighters, including a photo of a black man popping out of a box with the message: "Thanks for the gift, but I am sending it back it won't f------ work." Another showed a naked woman with a towel on her head, saying "Not all towel heads are bad!!"

Finley has denied making the comments and sending the texts, which came from his phone.

Through the fire union's grievance process, Finley asked the Fire Commission, which oversees the $4.2 million department, to overturn the demotion.

But Finley didn't show up to Thursday's meeting, where commissioners voted 3-1 to demote him. The issue may now head to arbitration, which could cost the department thousands of dollars.

After the meeting, Jamison said he was eager to get past the allegations that have plagued the department for months. He said Finley's alleged behavior is not representative of his own values or those of the department.

"We have followed the investigative process," Jamison said. "Given that we're a public service agency and are in a position of trust, we feel like we made the right decision."

Chairman Mark Weinkrantz cast the dissenting vote, citing a lack of evidence and a desire to avoid the cost of arbitration.

"I see at best the nebulous assemblage of finger pointing on this thing," he said, referring to the investigation, which included comments from firefighters who said Finley used racist language.

Weinkrantz is no stranger to the department's internal drama.

In April, he accused Lt. Bill Figueredo of making a Jewish slur and giving the Nazi salute.

In a dramatic appeal to commissioners, Figueredo, who is Cuban-American and the department's lone minority, accused Weinkrantz of inventing the accusation to get him fired.

Weinkrantz frequently harassed him for being Hispanic, he said, telling him he should mow lawns or wash dishes rather than fighting fires.

Both the commission and department are being investigated by the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights.

East Lake fire commission backs decision to demote firefighter accused of racial slurs 07/18/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 11:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. A trip down memory lane of Bucs' preseason expectations


    With HBO's Hard Knocks in town and the Bucs opening training camp Friday with their highest expectations in a decade, here's a look back at Tampa Bay's preseason expectations since their last playoff appearance in 2007 — and the results.


    Jameis Winston and running back Peyton Barber celebrate a touchdown last season against the 49ers. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  2. Boy Scouts apologize over Trump's remarks at jamboree


    Facing an angry backlash from parents and former members, the chief executive of the Boy Scouts of America apologized on Thursday for political remarks made by President Donald Trump at the organization's national jamboree this week, during which the commander-in-chief crowed over his election victory, attacked the news …

    President DonaldTrump, front left, gestures as former boys scouts, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, watch at the 2017 National Boy Scout Jamboree at the Summit in Glen Jean, W.Va. Boy Scouts president Randall Stephenson told the Associated Press on Wednesday, July 26, in his first public comments on the furor over President Donald Trump's speech on Monday that he'd be "disingenuous" if he suggested he was surprised by the Republican president's comments. [Associated Press]
  3. Drones restrictions coming at Tampa Bay area airports


    Starting Sept. 1, Tampa International Airport officials will be enforcing new height restrictions for drones and other unmanned aircraft systems, according to a press release.

    In this February 2017 file photo, a drone flies in Hanworth Park in west London. Starting Sept. 1, Tampa International Airport officials will be enforcing new height restrictions for drones and other unmanned aircraft systems,
[John Stillwell/PA via AP, File]
  4. Hit-run driver who refused to leave van threatened to shoot, Hillsborough deputies say

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Eddie Carly Colon Soto peeked his head out the broken side window of his van as a SWAT team closed in.

    The driver of this van tried to flee the scene of a crash in north Tampa Thursday morning until he could travel no farther, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said. Then he refused to leave the van and threatened sheriff's deputies, they said. [TONY MARRERO   |   Times]
  5. Get the latest Tampa Bay Buccaneers news delivered daily to your email inbox


    They narrowly missed the playoffs by thismuch.

    Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans (13) celebrates with quarterback Jameis Winston (3) after they connected for a touchdown during a win over the Seattle Seahawks in November in Tampa. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]