Miami Beach Fire Dept. Recruit Claims He Was Tea-Bagged, Racially Abused, And Fired For Complaining
|Brian Gentles says he was punished for revealing racial and sexual abuse he suffered as a Miami Beach firefighter recruit|
Now, however, it's the City of Miami Beach that is scrambling to douse the flames from Gentles's controversial February firing. The powerfully built black 26-year-old claims he was repeatedly harassed as a recruit because of his race. The abuse culminated in another cadet "tea-bagging" him, or putting his exposed testicles on Gentles's face. But when Gentles complained, he contends, he was the one fired -- not his attacker.
"This is an injustice," Gentles says. "And the cover-up has been the most painful part."
The claim comes at the worst possible moment for Miami Beach, a city beset by scandals. Last week, former procurement director Gus Lopez was arrested for taking bribes. Meanwhile, fire inspector Henry Bryant is on trial for conspiracy to traffic cocaine.
The firefighter fiasco is also an embarrassment for a department that has a history of treating black recruits badly. The U.S. Justice Department sued the city in 1991 for discriminating against blacks and Hispanics when hiring cops and firefighters. The city later signed a consent decree and allegedly repaired its practices.
But Gentles's story shows things haven't improved. The abuse started shortly after he joined the training program. He was the only black man in the 14-member class. Other recruits made racist jokes, Gentles says. Even his training lieutenant once handed him a Burger King application and said, "Go and be with your people."
|Daniel Fiorito denied taunting and tea-bagging Gentles during an internal investigation|
One recruit in particular allegedly made a habit of persecuting Gentles. Daniel Fiorito, a young Italian-American, repeatedly called him a "nigger," Gentles claims. Then, roughly two months into training, Gentles was eating lunch and studying in the academy classroom when Fiorito allegedly whipped his testicles out and hung them inches from his fellow recruit's face.
Fiorito did it again days later, Gentles says. The black recruit awoke from a nap to find Fiorito's nuts on his forehead. When he shoved his comrade away, Fiorito said, "Why don't you lick them?" A third tea-bagging followed. But Gentles didn't complain for fear of being labeled a crybaby.
"As a grown man, it's hard to go and report that another man has dehumanized and degraded you like that," he says. "I worked for five years to get that job."
The final straw came on September 24, 2011. Gentles dominated the all-important firefighter combat challenge, placing second in his class. But when Fiorito finished far behind, he aggressively approached Gentles, allegedly calling him a "stupid nigger" and challenging him to a fight. Gentles met with his superiors to report the abuse a week later, and the department launched an investigation.
Fiorito, who is now a firefighter, vigorously denied the allegations but could not be reached for comment by New Times. City spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez says an investigation is ongoing.