Miami City Attorney Tries To Erase Photos Of Fired Firefighters From The Internet

from the this-isn't-how-this-problem-gets-fixed dept

Six firefighters fired over a racist incident are the possible, but unlikely, beneficiaries of Florida public records law. Here’s how they ended up fired, via the Miami Herald, which broke the story. (h/t Boing Boing)

Miami’s fire chief on Thursday blasted six fired firefighters accused of draping a noose over a black colleague’s family photos, and released images of the “egregious and hateful” vandalism.

Photos of the scene at Fire Station 12, located on Northwest 46th Street near Charles Hadley Park, show that someone took a black lieutenant’s family photos out of their picture frames, drew penises onto the pictures, then reinserted them in their frames and placed them on a wood shelf next to a teddy bear figurine. Someone also hung a noose made of thin, white rope over one of the photos.

Five more firefighters are still under investigation. The six firefighters — Capt. William W. Bryson, Lt. Alejandro Sese, David Rivera, Harold Santana, Justin Rumbaugh and Kevin Meizoso — were all terminated after the completion of a Miami police investigation. We know their names and what they look like, thanks to the Miami Herald’s reporting and an apparent misstep by a Miami government agency.

On Thursday, ahead of a press conference scheduled for Friday morning with Miami’s mayor, Miami Fire Rescue also released the fired firefighters’ department photos even though Florida law exempts pictures of current and former firefighters from disclosure under the state’s broad public records laws.

Now, the city — facing a possible lawsuit from the firefighters union — is throwing CTRL-Z notices at local news agencies.

Just after midnight Friday morning, an assistant city attorney wrote an email to multiple news outlets demanding that the media “cease and desist from further showing the firefighters pictures in your coverage of this event.” Jones said the photos of the six men had been released accidentally.

“As former first responders, their photos are confidential and exempt under Florida’s public disclosure law and should not have been released,” wrote Kevin R. Jones.

Too bad. That’s a problem for the city, not journalists. The Miami Herald will be keeping the photos up. So will WPLG, which interviewed the victim of the racist acts. It’s been relegated to a sidebar, but the photos are still there.

ABC News has also kept the photos up, albeit as an image that lasts only as long as it takes for the autoplaying video to load. Those looking for a longer-lasting image will have to make do with the sidebar thumbnail.

The images are already out there. Telling the media to unpublish the photos is a ridiculous move. The union plans to sue the city for releasing the photos, but that’s not going to do anything to return the internet to the state it was in prior to the accidental photo dump.

As for the firefighters inadvertently left unprotected by this “violation” of Florida’s open records law, it would seem the best way to keep your photo from being displayed in stories about racist acts by public servants is refraining from engaging in bigoted acts while employed as public servants. Trying to turn online media sources into self-serving time machines only ensures maximum visibility.

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Comments on “Miami City Attorney Tries To Erase Photos Of Fired Firefighters From The Internet”

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38 Comments
Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Ooops...

This. Making death threats and rape threats against coworker’s families is an awesome way to discover — too late — that your air bottle has been filled with dry nitrogen gas instead of standard air-mix.

Being a firefighter is a dangerous enough job that discovering you have people like that on the team can result in proactive action.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I saw & tweeted about this, there were questions if the law was constitutional.

I can understand protecting the photo of an undercover police officer, but firefighters?
“Former First Responders” doesn’t sound so much like a class that needs special protections.
Former First Responders who were fired for racist acts seems like they shouldn’t be getting any benefits.

One does have to wonder who else is covered by this attempt to hide the faces of those charged with wrongdoing because they work for the government. Would they have been so loud in the protests if they firefighters had been fired for sex crimes?

This sounds like a stupid expansion of allowing former “first responders” to hide past bad acts & just slip into the same job elsewhere. Its worked out so well for those few bad apple cops who are allowed to sneak out to a new force who has no clue about why they moved.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

While I agree mostly, the current law is the law, and they definitely broke it. And they can’t just ignore protection laws just because its helping undesirable people, especially as this is regarding government disclosures. Imagine all the other circumstances that this would be scary, if government didn’t enforce these laws against itself.

Sadly enforcement in this case is just a payout to the “victims”, as I doubt anything would be done to the employees involved.

Groaker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“The law is the law” is a grossly over fatigued chestnut. This law is unconstitutional. The way to eliminate it is to become a member of the class that has standing to challenge it. Basically to break it, and then take your chances at being found guilty, or that the law is unconstitutional.

The media did what the media is supposed to do in these cases. It violated the law, and took the chance. They should be applauded for their bravery in upholding the Constitution, not whipped with a sad platitude.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think you missed my point.

I’m all for the law being challenged. The media did not violate the law, the government did by releasing the images.

Is that what we all want guys? Government deciding a law protecting the people from the government is a bad law so they just won’t follow it? I understand in this case who cares, but what about other situations and laws? That’s why I said “the law is the law” and they (governemtn) must follow it.

Again, the media didn’t do anything wrong here.

ralph_the_bus_driver (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Something like this is most likely unconstitutional. If it is fine to have the Fire Chief, Police Chief, City Manager, etc. photos released, there is no reason not to allow the photos of ordinary fire fighters and police. These women and men are being paid with government funds. It is discriminatory to allow the release of some government photos but not others based solely on general qualifications.

Yes, an exception could be made in special circumstances, such as if they were working undercover or in a contract role.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Something like this is most likely unconstitutional.

How so? FOIA is not a constitutional amendment, it’s a relatively recent set of laws. (Threatening newspapers to force them to take down the photos would be unconstitutional; refusing to release photos in the first place wouldn’t.)

It is discriminatory to allow the release of some government photos but not others based solely on general qualifications.

Discrimination isn’t illegal in general. The constitution doesn’t ban it, and itself discriminates in various ways (free men vs. all other men, minimum age for president). Occupation isn’t a protected criterion under any anti-discrimination law I’m aware of; nor could "general qualifications" ever be, because anyone hiring a working will need to discriminate on that basis.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The government violated their own law.
The attorney is demanding that magically the genie go back into the bottle.
You can not unring a bell, and this is as stupid as the Feds claiming that even if everyone in the world has seen and read leaked TS docs, they are still TS and employees need to actively avoid any contact with the contents.

The city handed out the pictures.
They city needs to take itself to court, then challenge the charges on constitutional grounds, and waste a huge amount of time & resources overturning their stupid law.
They have no grounds to go after the media.
The Pentagon Papers got published over objections & those were much more scandalous than 6 alleged racists.

Anonymous Coward says:

Over at Ars Technica, FBI can’t break the encryption on Texas shooter’s smartphone.

When this matter is laid before Congress, encryption will be presented as the sole reason that this shooting was not prevented and the shooter arrested and convicted. The specter of juries saying “I don’t care how many witnesses there were, IF HE DIDN’T SAVE SELFIES OF HIMSELF DOING IT, HE MUST BE INNOCENT!” will stalk the halls of FBI headquarters.

He’s dead. Oh, you say, you want to prosecute his accomplices? WHAT ACCOMPLICES? You don’t know of any, but you’d like to conduct a FISHING EXPEDITION anyway?

Look, there’s no “slippery slope” here. If the FBI can investigate in the absence of ANY EVIDENCE WHATEVER that a crime has been committed by anyone who can be investigated, then the Bill of Rights is toilet paper.

ralph_the_bus_driver (profile) says:

Re: A criminal Has

I don’t think they have been criminally charged. They have been fired for cause which is a much different animal.

I’ll leave it to the Prosecutor to decide if a crime exists. Yes, their actions rise to a severe violation of city policy, but I’m not so sure it is a crime. (If there was further vandalism, such as damage to a car or painting racist graffiti on his personal belongings then this would be evidence of a continuing crime. But not on its own.) see Virginia v. Black, 2003 where the SC decided that actual intimidation must be shown.

TRX (profile) says:

The question for me is, why does the state of Florida feel that pictures of current and former firemen are such sensitive information that they have to be restricted from public view?

We have any number of police departments who seem to feel they should be operating in secret, but… firemen? What’s next, dogcatchers? The DMV? Will the state legislature start meeting in ski masks?

Monday (profile) says:

No 'Mulligans' for Racists

OR, or, is there?

Who released these images exactly? I’m not into polemics or salacious conspiracy crap, but, if it was an individual savvy enough to picture the carreers of these relatively young FiFis, then perhaps they could’ve envisaged a ‘pay-day’ by getting the pictures posted before someone higher on the food chain could correct course before it might have become an issue. Some half-wit failed lawyer bro or sister…

There is something more than just simply "broken" people in this story. It’s that whole ‘safety-in-numbers’ bullshit motto.

"Men go crazy in congregation…"

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