Justin Fenton, Baltimore Sun, December 2, 2007
A firefighter who reported finding a knotted rope and a threatening note with a drawing of a noose in an East Baltimore station house last month had placed the items there himself, city officials said yesterday.
The man was suspended last week for performance-related issues and will likely face additional punishment, fire officials said. Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the Police Department and for Mayor Sheila Dixon, said the man admitted to the hoax and will not face criminal charges.
Officials identified the firefighter who they say acknowledged writing the note as Donald Maynard, a firefighter-paramedic apprentice who is black. Maynard could not be reached for comment.
The rope incident sparked outrage two weeks ago and prompted a federal investigation into possible civil rights violations. It was the latest in a series of incidents that have cast the Fire Department in a poor light over the past year, including the death of a recruit in a training exercise and accusations of racism.
The news of the hoax came a day after a report released by the city’s inspector general found that the top performers on two recent Fire Department promotions exams likely cheated amid lapses in testing security.
A black firefighters group had called accusations of cheating racially motivated after union officials questioned the test scores. But the investigation found that five African-American firefighters had studied by using a 2001 exam, which is against test protocol.
On Nov. 21, a handwritten note and a rope were discovered about 1:30 a.m. by two Fire Department employees—one black and one white. It read, “We cant [sic] hang the cheaters but we can hang the failures. NO EMT-I, NO JOB.” A small stick figure with a noose and the word “Stop” were drawn below the message.
Stephan G. Fugate, head of the city fire officers union, said Dixon’s reaction contributed to racial tensions. He said members of the community became hostile toward firefighters after the mayor “came out and, in effect, said racism is running rampant.”
“To put it mildly, this time we’re not going to let it go,” said Fugate. “The reaction from the NAACP, the mayor and the Vulcan Blazers [represents black firemen] was sickening, and we’re going to demand an apology.”
But Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham, president of the NAACP’s Baltimore chapter, said the fact that such an incident could occur shows that pervasive racial problems persist in the department.