1st Black Female Firefighter Sues Florida City for Depicting Her as a White Person in Mural

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Photo: Firefighter Montreal (Shutterstock)

City officials will meet this week to discuss a lawsuit filed by Boynton Beach’s first Black female firefighter after she was depicted as a white person on a public mural.

Latosha Clemons, who went on to become Boynton’s first Black deputy fire chief before retiring in 2020, is seeking more than $100,000 in damages according to the lawsuit filed in April, WPTV reports. Her attorneys have requested a jury trial.

Per CNN, “The City Commission will meet in a closed-door session to discuss the litigation,” City Manager Lori LaVerriere wrote in an email yesterday. “It is not a public meeting.”

Clemons, who became Boynton’s first Black female firefighter in 1996, was portrayed as a white woman after the mural was completed. The city commissioned the project to honor its fire department and unveiled it in June 2020. It was removed after only one day because of public outrage for the misrepresentation of Clemons and former fire chief Glenn Joseph—who is also Black—according to the Palm Beach Post.

Here’s more on the story from CNN:

Latosha Clemons filed the lawsuit in April against the City of Boynton Beach. According to the complaint, a mural intended to honor her and others for their service to the city “reflected her as a White member of the city fire department.”

A second amended complaint filed September 2 alleges the case is being brought on behalf of Clemons “to redress the defamatory statement [the City of Boynton Beach] made regarding her race and/or its negligence in failing to properly oversee an approved use of the likeness of Clemons.”

Clemons’ complaint claims that after her approval of the mural picture in November 2019, “the actions of the city were done intentionally and knowingly to defame and injure Clemons,” and causing her both mental and emotional damage, as well as the loss of income, CNN reports.

Per Firehouse:

The city also responded by firing Debby Coles-Dobay, the public arts manager, and removing Matthew Petty as fire chief. Cole-Dobay and Petty are white.

Clemons worked 26 years for the city before retiring in 2020.

Whitewashing her likeness on the mural “completely disrespected all that Clemons had accomplished,” according to the lawsuit, and “also demonstrated disrespect for the large black population” of Boynton Beach.

Arthur Schofield, Clemons’ West Palm Beach-based attorney, declined comment on the lawsuit this week because the case is pending.

City Manager Lori LaVerriere did not respond to a request for comment. LaVerriere has previously said she was unaware of the changes to the mural.

“I’m hurt. I’m disappointed. I’m outraged,” Clemons told the Palm Beach Post in June 2020. “It’s been my heart and soul and my lifeblood to serve in the community where I grew up…this is beyond disrespectful, and I basically want to know why it happened.”

Clemons’ attorney filed the second amended complaint pursuing damages of over $30,000, and according to court records, a mediation session is set for Nov. 30.


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