CLEVELAND, OH – Cleveland Fire Chief Daryl McGinnis received a verbal reprimand Wednesday for threatening to stab a firefighter in the neck for not wearing his fatigue shirt on duty, a dress code violation.
Firefighter Phillip Leslie filed the complaint with the city’s public safety department after he and other firefighters complained about McGinnis’ threatening words in Station No. 10 on June 26.
Cleveland Safety Director Martin L. Flask found that McGinnis violated two Civil Service Rules violations — conduct unbecoming an employee in public service, and offensive conduct or language toward fellow employees.
Although the chief’s conduct may not have risen to the level of workplace violence, Flask said McGinnis’ comments were inappropriate — even if his intentions were not threatening, Flask wrote in a letter to McGinnis.
“I find your passion laudable and applaud your leadership,” Flask wrote. “However, your choice of words in this situation was totally inappropriate and detracted from the message you were attempting to convey which was to inspire the rank and file to be more cognizant to the divisions’ commitment to serve and protect the citizens of Cleveland.”
Flask concluded the letter by telling the fire chief that he expects future communications to be professional and without threat or intimidation…and that he was issuing McGinnis a verbal reprimand.
The Cleveland Fire Fighters Union called the reprimand a “slap on the wrist” and said the verbal warning was not strong enough punishment.
“What the chief did was in clear violation of workplace violence policy,” Cleveland Firefighters Union secretary Mike Norman said. “It prohibits behavior and conduct that includes oral, written or physical threats, harassment and intimidation.
“I’m not sure the safety director’s action satisfies the concerns of our membership,” he said. “We go to a lot of shootings and knifings…we deal with those on a daily basis. We have a stressful, dangerous job, and what the chief did in front of a large number of our members is a serious issue and a cause of concern for us.”
According to Leslie’s written statement, he was assigned to a different fire station that day and was going to his vehicle to retrieve shirts, which were in his travel bag, when the chief visited and summoned the firefighters for a roll call.
“Chief McGinnis inquired as to why my shirt was in my bag,” Leslie wrote. “I informed him I was on a detail. When the Chief’s roll call addressed the issue of the use of our shirts while on duty, he specifically stressed to me that ‘the shirts will not be in our bags…Phil.’”
McGinnis paced the lined-up personnel and Leslie wrote that the chief glared at him several times while speaking. Leslie said he had no issues with the chief’s directives of how, where and when fatigue shirts should be worn, or how they are to appear in public.
“(But) the assertion that he (Chief McGinnis) would stab us in the neck to get us to do what he wants, the way he wants, gives me cause for great cause for concern,” Leslie wrote. “He made mention of putting a knife in our necks several times, stating also that is not what he wants to do, but will, if it is what it would take to have things done the way he wants it…”
Leslie said in his letter he was hopeful McGinnis’ comments were metaphoric in nature, and tried to overlook the negative aspects of the chief’s visit.
“(But) the anxiety of this episode has not receded,” he concluded, “and so I feel (this) must be addressed in order to hopefully dispel the agitation bought about by this incident.”
McGinnis, a 27-year Cleveland fire veteran, was unavailable for comment Wednesday. He was sworn in as chief in January, succeeding Paul Stubbs.
McGinnis was appointed to set up clear rules and standards following payroll abuses — ensuring the new automated timekeeping and scheduling software would be up and running in February.
McGinnis, 54, was also asked to facilitate the merger of the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Service, and restore the public’s confidence in departmental operations.