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Neighbor: Firefighter didn't intend slur

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

When Martin Anderson read the what Jeannine Horton said at the firehouse, he said he recognized his own words.

Horton, a lieutenant with the Largo Fire Department, is being scrutinized after admitting to making racially charged remarks that include telling other firefighters "I hate n------."

Anderson, an African-American who is Horton's neighbor, said Tuesday night that he thinks Horton may have been trying to make a point in a conversation, repeating something he had told her five months ago.

"We got on the subject of race," Anderson said, "and I told her the "n' word does not always mean a black person. That's what I was raised to believe. In that conversation (at the firehouse), she was saying back what I said to her. I almost heard my voice."

Horton, who is awaiting the conclusion of a city investigation into her comments and also comments made by other firefighters in a September conversation, has told investigators that she did not consider the word a racially charged term.

Anderson, who has lived next door to Horton the past three years, went to City Hall Tuesday night to speak out in her defense.

"As an African-American, as a black male, I don't feel she is the type of person who is racist," Anderson told commissioners. "Sometimes I think we hear what we want to hear. I have had personal conversations with her on this subject."

Commissioners said nothing after Anderson spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. They also made no mention of the investigation after Fire Chief Caroll Williams went before them requesting nearly $600,000 for a new ladder truck.

The department investigation began this month and has spread to a district chief as well as firefighters.

Horton, an 18-year veteran, told investigators she has always considered the term to mean "bad people from any race, nationality, sex or creed."

Horton has said she made the remarks after she walked in on a conversation with firefighters in September. She said the other firefighters used terms such as "lazy blacks" and "towel heads."

Horton confessed the remarks to her supervisor one week after making them. After consulting the other firefighters, District Chief Jeff Day chose not to discipline Horton or report the incident.

An investigation was launched weeks later, after rumors spread to other stations. On Monday, one commissioner called for firing Horton.

Anderson said Horton was not aware that he was speaking in her defense and that she has many African-American friends who he's seen visiting her home.

"I think in a weird way she was defending minorities," Anderson said outside the commission chambers. "Saying people were labeled with words, anyone can be labeled with words."

Five months ago, Anderson said, he and Horton talked about the context of the word after Horton heard a passerby make an offensive comment.

Anderson had been mowing his lawn and did not hear the entire comment. Horton, who was also outside, told him that people can be so ignorant, he said. They started talking. They even shared a beer.

Anderson said Horton has often talked about how difficult it is being a woman in the fire department. He wonders why her comments have received more attention than those of other firefighters.

"I believe they wanted to hear it," he said. "I believe they heard a word, took it out of context and used it against her."

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