HIALEAH, FL – The vice president of Hialeah’s fire union faces a two-day suspension without pay for posting pictures on his Facebook of his underage children holding sealed bottles of alcohol and sleeping on top of a Corona beer box.
The firefighter, Eric Johnson, says he is being retaliated against for being an unrelenting critic of Hialeah’s mayor and administration, and for chasing down absentee ballot fraud.
Hialeah police investigated whether Johnson did anything wrong when he posted the pictures, but the police department didn’t come to any conclusions and referred final action to the fire department. Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez recommended the two-day suspension for “conduct unbecoming,” “insubordination or disgraceful conduct” and for “criticizing rules, orders and policies,” according to a letter to Johnson from Hernandez.
Johnson said he is contemplating how to fight the punishment.
“It’s ridiculous and it’s all based on politics,” he said.
Hernandez and the fire department didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Johnson’s case generated attention because it happened around the same time a Miami-Dade County Fire Department captain was demoted to the position of firefighter after posting a Facebook rant about the racially charged shooting death of Miami Gardens teen Trayvon Martin.
If upheld, the suspension would be Johnson’s first case of disciplinary action in his 10-year employment with the city.
Johnson has been a dogged critic of Hialeah’s city government for years, and most recently has taken on Hernandez’s handling of the budget, union negotiations and more.
Investigative documents show that, while looking into Johnson, Hialeah police looked at dozens of Facebook and blog posts from others that poked fun at Hernandez. Hialeah Fire Department rules state employees aren’t allowed to “engage in any political, racial or religious discussion to the detriment of good discipline.”
Johnson recently hired a private investigator to track down absentee ballot fraud, and the probe has led to two arrests. Johnson says that has made him a target for powerful politicos who rely on absentee ballot fraud tactics to win elections. Hernandez has denied any involvement in the scandal.
The investigation into Johnson’s Facebook posts began in May after the police department received an anonymous letter from a “concerned parent.” The letter, which was sent to The Miami Herald, included pictures taken from Johnson’s public Facebook page in which three children, including his 7-year old and 10-year old kids, hold up full bottles of liquor.
The photo caption read: “Young rednecks in training…”
Another photo of a boy resting his head on a box of Corona beer was captioned: “And the after effect…”
Johnson told investigators the box didn’t have any more beers in it.
A police report notes that no criminal charges were filed based on the photographs and that Hialeah police contacted the Florida Department of Children and Families. But the agency “determined that the photograph alone is not sufficient enough to generate a report and initiate an investigation.”
Local media outlets asked Johnson about the photos and about Facebook posts in which Johnson, who only speaks English, wrote that he communicates with Hialeah’s heavily Hispanic population by adding an “o” to the end of any word.
“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’,” he wrote.
A Hialeah Fire Department policy states that: “communications to be given to the press, radio and television shall be through the public information officer as designated by the Fire Chief.”
Johnson didn’t go through the department to talk to the press about his Facebook page. He was off-duty and not in uniform at the time.
“My First Amendment constitutional right has been violated,” he said.
From The Miami Herald