File details New London firefighter recruit's dismissal

Alfred Mayo, a New London firefighter recruit who was fired in December, waits to be introduced prior to a press conference at New London City Hall on Jan. 20.
Alfred Mayo, a New London firefighter recruit who was fired in December, waits to be introduced prior to a press conference at New London City Hall on Jan. 20. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

New London - The 140-page personnel file of a man training to become the first black firefighter hired by the city fire department in 34 years documents "concerns regarding attitude and growth" during the recruit's time at the 15-week state-run fire academy.

Those concerns were included in "an independent review of all relevant information" that showed Alfred Mayo's "conduct does not meet the standards that the City of New London looks for in a New London Firefighter," Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio wrote in his termination letter to Mayo three days before the class's graduation.

Finizio fired Mayo Dec. 19 after discussions with Fire Chief Ronald Samul, personnel coordinator Bernadette Welch and the "independent review."

The file shows Mayo was a good student with test scores above passing.

The mayor had asked for the scores and evaluations of the last 11 New London recruits to attend the academy to compare to Mayo's scores, information that is also in the file.

Through two evaluation periods, Mayo's homework average was about 0.5 percent below that of the class average (95.61) and his average quiz scores were about 4½ percentage points below the class average (88.62).

Mayo received 2's and 3's - average or below average - on his competency evaluation. The instructors wrote that Mayo "struggles with attitude, behavior, interpersonal relationships."

"Optimistic he'll find success," the evaluation reads.

The file also contains Mayo's driving record - including a November speeding ticket that he did not report to academy supervisors - and evaluation ratings and write-ups for disciplinary issues that included "unusual" and "egregious" behavior.

The firing brought the state NAACP chapter to New London last Friday, when the group held a press conference at City Hall protesting the termination and the lack of diversity in the department. A black firefighter has not been hired by the city since 1978.

"We're trying to get justice here," Donald Wilson, New London NAACP chapter president, said Friday. "I don't believe Mr. Mayo was dealt with fairly. There's a lot of things that just don't look right."

Finizio would not comment further Thursday, but he said last week that low test scores and other issues presented in Mayo's personnel file led to the firing.

"I am highly sensitive to the reality that this individual was the first African American fire recruit in over 30 years," Finizio said last week in an online chat with Day readers. "... It was a very difficult decision to make, and I assure the people of New London that in the year ahead, you will see my commitment to diversity in this department is steadfast. But the City of New London will not lower our standards of excellence for anyone."

Mayo's attorney, Gary Cicchiello, criticized the termination Thursday.

"He wasn't required to have the best grades or be number one in the class. He had to pass and be certified, and that's what he did," Cicchiello said. "If we all have to be the best at something, we're going to have long unemployment lines. He never reported to be the best, he reported that he had passed and, 'Now I'm ready for my job.'"

On Oct. 21, Mayo met with fire academy recruit coordinators and the program manager, who requested the meeting to discuss "continued observed undesirable behaviors" including conduct "unbecoming of a recruit."

The meeting addressed an incident in which Mayo made an obscene gesture at a video camera while marching in formation.

"... his attitude, behavior, and lack of consistently positive contributions to the necessary esprit de corps within the class were his main deficiencies," a document recounting the meeting, signed by Mayo and a recruit coordinator, reads.

Recruit Coordinator William DeFord emailed Samul four days later that Mayo had apologized for the incident and expressed "a genuine commitment to making the progress we demand."

About six weeks later, on Dec. 13, DeFord emailed Samul and described his suspicion that Mayo had inscribed "Class 48" in wet cement.

DeFord characterized Mayo's behavior as "unusual" and "egregious" when asked directly if he were involved in the cement incident.

"I didn't do it, and nobody can prove that I did anything," DeFord reported Mayo as saying. "... I don't like the class, and I would not do it because of that."

Cicchiello said DeFord's recollection is untrue.

"Our position is, the comments written in (the file) by the staff at the academy are subjective complaints written by people with an agenda to get rid of a black recruit," Cicchiello said. "They had an agenda and wrote this purported transcript to facilitate that agenda."

On Dec. 19 Mayo was pulled from the academy and had his conditional job offer rescinded.

"... This is the first time we have ever experienced this type of inadequate behavior, unsatisfactory conduct and poor attitude" by a recruit, Samul wrote in Mayo's termination letter.

Mayo said Thursday that Samul did not contact him to ask about any of the incidents.

"There was no indication that the City of New London ever expressed any concern to Al in that they never got his side of the story in respect to these allegations," Cicchiello, said.

Mayo said the NAACP has scheduled a meeting with city officials for Monday.

"He came to me because he was terminated, and we'll see where this all goes," Cicchiello said. "We're investigating the case to see what we can do."

s.goldstein@theday.com

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