HIALEAH, FL – A firefighter who sparked controversy with posts on his Facebook page is now under investigation and speaking out.
Ten-year veteran Hialeah firefighter Eric Johnson is under investigation by his department for postings on his personal Facebook page. The postings have sparked controversy and have some people questioning if Johnson is a racist. “Absolutely not,” he said in response. “I’m married to a Cuban. My best friend is an African-American. Anything else?”
One of the posts in question is a photo of a man riding a scooter with a goat and the caption: “Only in Hialeah. LOL.” “Wasn’t that hilarious or what?” Johnson said when asked about the photo. “I don’t really necessarily see why people would be offended. It’s a picture. It’s in good humor. You have the option of coming on my page and looking at it or not.”
In another posting, Johnson wrote about how he communicates with the people of Hialeah. He says: “I have a system. Just add an ‘o’ to any English word and bam! It works. For example, how ya doin ‘o.’ You wanna go to the hospital ‘o.’ I just learned that you can’t do that when you say is this your home though. Ha Ha.”
“How you doing-o? You have some chest pain-o? You want to go to the hospital-o? It is what it is. It works,” said Johnson.
Then there are Johnson’s postings about Medicare: “Ha Ha Ha… Jew forgot dat I hab da Medicare… Jew must talk me.”
Johnson also offered an explanation for that comment too. “This is a typical response we get in the city from a lot of people who have government benefits,” he said. “It’s almost like you owe them, you are there at their beck and call, at their service, and mind you, as a public servant, I am, I really am.”
The firefighter is also the vice-president of the Hialeah Association of Firefighters. “This particular person happens to be an employee of government and the public holds government employees to a higher standard,” said Marcos Regalado of the Spanish-American League Against Discrimination.
Public employees and their personal Facebook pages have been an issue before. Miami-Dade firefighter Brian Beckmann recently made controversial comments about the Trayvon Martin case on his Facebook page. Beckmann is still under investigation by his department.
As for Johnson, he is not backing down. “These aren’t stereotypes, this is reality. If anyone is stereotyped, it’s me in Hialeah,” he said. “I’m a gringo in the middle of Hialeah!”
Despite the online comments, Johnson assures the community that he treats everyone equally while on the job. “Just like my grandmother and just like my mother,” he said. “Because that’s the essence of public service. Treat ’em all like your mom.”
Johnson says he is not bound to any policy pertaining to the use of social media. He believes any discipline would be unwarranted and that he has every right to voice his opinion and beliefs.
However, others say, a government employee should know better.