Published April 24. 2012 4:00PM Updated April 25. 2012 8:12PM
Hartford — State Rep. Ernest Hewett joined with fellow members of the legislature's Black and Latino Caucus and the Connecticut NAACP Tuesday to call on New London officials to rehire black firefighter recruit Alfred Mayo in light of new investigation findings.
"Make him whole and give this young man his job back," said Hewett, a New London Democrat.
If city leaders take no action, then New London should brace for a lawsuit, said Scot X. Esdaile, president of the state NAACP.
"The truth is all laid out now. It's all transparent now. It's clear without a shadow of a doubt," he said. "We need the mayor to do the right thing."
The group's news conference in the Capitol complex came after the release Monday of an internal state investigation into Mayo's experiences at the Connecticut Fire Academy in Windsor Locks.
Mayo, the sole black recruit in his class of 48 and the first black firefighter to be hired by New London since 1978, was fired by the city in December, three days before he was to graduate from the academy.
Investigators faulted academy staff, particularly Recruitment Coordinator William DeFord, for violating procedures, having inappropriate communications with New London fire officials about Mayo's performance, and jumping to possibly false conclusions that linked Mayo to a message written in wet cement.
The investigation was conducted by the office of Reuben F. Bradford, commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told reporters that he had reviewed Bradford's letter to New London officials about the investigation. The governor did not give his opinion as to whether Mayo should be rehired.
"I have the highest respect for the commissioner, and I think his approach to this matter was pretty straightforward," Malloy said. "I think his findings are, having reviewed the circumstances, that there's a probability that communications took place that probably shouldn't have taken place."
During the afternoon news conference, Hewett led a call for DeFord's resignation. He also called for the firing of a white firefighter in Mayo's training class who was caught cheating on a test but later was permitted to retake the test and "walk with his class" at graduation.
State officials say that firefighter is currently employed with a fire department, but declined Tuesday to identify the individual or department.
Mayo attended the news conference with his mother, fiancée and sister. He initially stood off to the side, but was invited to stand up front before the cameras with the lawmakers and NAACP president.
Also present was state Rep. Charles "Don" Clemons Jr., a Democrat and retired firefighter in his home city of Bridgeport. Clemons was a plaintiff in a successful class-action lawsuit against Bridgeport for discriminatory practices in testing and hiring of workers, including firefighters. The case was decided in 1984.
"I can empathize and sympathize with the trauma that he's going through, him and his family," Clemons said.
Esdaile said New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and Fire Chief Ronald Samul Sr., Chief Administrative Officer Jane Glover and City Councilor Wade Hyslop, head of the city's Public Safety Committee, "have been irresponsible, negligent and downright unprofessional" in handing the Mayo situation.
He said the four officials should have investigated the circumstances rather than abruptly firing Mayo and pulling him out of the academy.
Asked if he remains interested in working for New London, Mayo replied: "The issue is, is the offer on the table."
Sen. Edwin Gomes, D-Bridgeport, said he was especially disturbed by the finding about the white firefighter who cheated on a test but was allowed to graduate with a job waiting for him.
"Something is wrong in New London," Gomes said.
For Hewett, the investigation confirmed his worries that prejudice played a role in Mayo's fire academy experience. He noted how the state investigators doubt DeFord's allegation that it was Mayo who wrote "class of 48" in wet cement.
"Some of the recruits jokingly suggested that the black guy did it," Hewett said of the cement incident. "This, in my opinion, helped fuel the perception that the black guy did it."
Hewett described how Mayo put on his boots during the first day of training and found them filled with water.
"If all the recruits' boots were filled with water, then that would not have been a problem," Hewett said. "But if the only boots that had water in them belong to the only African American in a class of 48, then that's when it becomes a problem."
And in regards to a disciplinary action against Mayo for having raised his middle finger at a camera while marching in formation, Hewett held up photos that he said depict firefighter recruits making the same gesture, including one of a recruit grabbing his crotch.
The NAACP and Hewett plan to meet with Finizio, hand him a personal copy of the investigation report and request that Mayo be reinstated.
"If he does not do the right thing … we'll have to get it in court," Esdaile said. "Hopefully, we don't have to go that route. Hopefully the mayor (and Glover and Hyslop) will stop this political posturing, let their ego go to the side and say, 'Hey, we made a mistake here.'"
The mayor's office said Tuesday afternoon that the city's position on Mayo's employment has not changed. In a statement, Finizio said he appreciates the state's investigation.
"This will help us moving forward for all positions in the fire department that will be filled in the future. As for Mr. Mayo's case, we are waiting on the resolution on his driver's license … the city's position hasn't changed until that is resolved."
Finizio has cited Mayo's checkered driving record as a reason for not rehiring him. Mayo has a pending court case for speeding while attending the fire academy.
But Hewett insists that the mayor's driving-record argument is a canard, as Mayo wouldn't be driving a fire truck as an entry-level firefighter.
"We've put a hole in everything they have said," Hewett declared. "Now it's time to say to Mr. Mayo, 'We were wrong,' and give his job back."
Steve Spellman, chief of staff for Commissioner Bradford and the author of the investigation report, said Tueday that DeFord remains employed at the training academy. He noted how Mayo has pending civil rights complaints against the fire academy and New London that allege he was a victim of racial discrimination.
On the question of whether DeFord could be fired, department spokesman Scott DeVico said, "I can't comment on that right now."
Also present at Tuesday's news conference was Mongi Dhaouadi, a New London resident and executive director of the state chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.
"Discrimination against one is discrimination against everybody," he said.