Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

East Lake Fire Rescue begins investigating racism allegations

Firefighter Bill Figueredo was demoted after he was accused of using a slur and a Nazi salute. In turn he said he was a victim of racial harassment. The demotion dispute is headed to arbitration unless attorneys strike an agreement.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times (2000)

Firefighter Bill Figueredo was demoted after he was accused of using a slur and a Nazi salute. In turn he said he was a victim of racial harassment. The demotion dispute is headed to arbitration unless attorneys strike an agreement.

EAST LAKE — After a slow start, East Lake Fire Rescue has launched an investigation into whether a lieutenant sent racist text messages to firefighters and harassed the department's only minority.

Lt. James Finley is accused of sending at least two messages, including one of a black man popping out of a brown box with this message: "Thanks for the gift, but I am sending it back it won't f------ work."

Fire Chief Tom Jamison originally said he couldn't punish Finley because the texts were sent while he was off duty. After records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times showed Finley was on duty, Jamison said he had made an error and would investigate.

"We take these allegations very seriously," Jamison said Monday, adding that the department began informal questioning for the investigation Friday. "East Lake (Fire Rescue) will not tolerate harassment or discrimination from our members."

The investigation into the text messages is the latest chapter in a saga that began almost a month ago, when firefighter Bill Figueredo said during a public hearing that he was a victim of racial harassment.

Figueredo, a Cuban-American and the department's only minority, was stripped of his lieutenant rank and took a $5,000 pay cut after Finley accused him of using a Jewish slur and Fire Commissioner Mark Weinkrantz — one of five elected officials who oversee the department — accused him of giving him a Nazi salute.

To puncture the credibility of his accusers, Figueredo showed commissioners provocative text messages sent from Finley's phone.

Figueredo also accused Weinkrantz of delivering 8-pound pink dumbbells to him at the fire station and calling him a derogatory term for homosexuals. Weinkrantz acknowledged buying the dumbbells but denied making the slur.

Finley did not respond to a message left on his phone Tuesday.

The dispute over Figueredo's demotion is headed to arbitration unless attorneys strike an agreement.

Fire department attorney Andy Salzman said the dispute could lead to a legal battle costing $10,000.

Michael Stephens, Figueredo's attorney, estimated the cost would be much more.

Jamison said he is implementing diversity and sensitivity training and has consulted with the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights, which protects people in discrimination cases, on how to move forward.

He directed Figueredo to submit his accusations about Weinkrantz to the human rights office since it would be a conflict of interest for the department to investigate one of its own leaders, Jamison said.

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com or (850) 323-0353. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.

East Lake Fire Rescue begins investigating racism allegations 05/14/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 6:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Fire on neighbor's porch leads to charges against Holiday man

    Crime

    HOLIDAY — A Holiday man was arrested Wednesday after authorities say he torched the front porch of his neighbor, who he insisted was holding his daughter hostage.

    Dan Fry, 63, of Holiday was arrested Wednesday on a charge of first-degree arson. [Photo courtesy of Pasco Sheriff's Office]
  2. Port Richey man solicited sex from 13-year-old, Pasco authorities say

    Crime

    PORT RICHEY — A Port Richey man was arrested Wednesday after Pasco County authorities say he solicited sex from a 13-year-old boy on the gay male dating app Grindr.

    Shawn Daly, 43, of Port Richey was charged with solicitation for sexual conduct with a child over a computer. [Photo courtesy of Pasco Sheriff's Office]
  3. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 16: An evening of wine and song transcends all language barriers for these travelers

    Travel

    Day 16: Castrojeriz to Villarmentero de Campos: 35 km, 10.5 hours. Total for Days 1-16 = 360 km (224 miles)

  4. Unexpected weak quarter at MarineMax slashes boating retailer shares by 20 percent

    Business

    CLEARWATER — Just then you thought it was safe to go back into the water, a boating business leader issued a small craft warning.

    Bill McGill Jr., CEO of Clearwater's MarineMax, the country's biggest recreational boat retailer. [Courtesy of MarineMax]
  5. Dunedin's negotiations with Blue Jays continue

    Local Government

    DUNEDIN — Dunedin officials are still in the process of negotiating a license agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays.

    A rendering by Populous, a global architecture firm specializing in sports facility development, shows the entrance of an upgraded Florida Auto Exchange Stadium shows a Toronto Blue Jays team store. If the $81 million renovation plans between the city and team go through, the store would be open year-round.Credit:  Populous