A 16-year Columbia Fire Department captain was fired Monday from his $53,722-a-year job for making threatening remarks against people in a Black Lives Matter protest that on Sunday night closed down a major interstate corridor into Columbia, city officials said Monday.
Capt. Jimmy Morris, a firefighter at the North Main Street Fire Station, was fired Monday after city officials learned he had made two Facebook posts in which he threatened to do harm to protesters if they got in his way.
On Sunday night, in apparent reaction to a S.C. Secessionist Party raising the Confederate flag in a legally-sanctioned public event at the State House that afternoon, the Black Lives Matter movement staged a counter protest that resulted in the I-126 corridor being blocked on the stretch between the Greystone Boulevard and Huger and Elmwood street exits.
In response, just before 10 p.m., Morris posted, “Idiots shutting down I-126. Better not be there when I get off work or there is gonna be some run over dumb asses.”
About an hour later, Morris added another post.
“Public Service Announcement: If you attempt to shut down an interstate, highway, etc on my way home, you best hope I’m not one of the first vehicles in line because your ass WILL get run over! Period! That is all....”
Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said Monday night that Morris’ post do not “represent views of the Columbia Fire Department nor the City of Columbia.”
“It was totally inappropriate to post that type of post,” Jenkins said of acting swiftly to fire Morris.
The posts were especially inappropriate on the heels of last week’s violent events in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas, Jenkins said.
“Due to the magnitude of the impact that the posts had, that is why I made the decision,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins’ decision was supported by City Manager Teresa Wilson. In a statement, Wilson said there’s “zero tolerance,” for city employees who disregard the safety of others.
“Any actions taken to communicate or demonstrate a lack of respect for the lives and safety of others falls into the category of ‘zero tolerance,’ ” Wilson said.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, also applauded Jenkins’ decision.
“I support the decision and I support Chief Jenkins 100 percent,” Rutherford said when informed of Morris’ posts. “It’s disappointing. It’s not funny and the use of profanity is especially disturbing. We expect more from our public officials. … It’s just stupid.”
Morris is Caucasian according to Jenkins. The North Main Street Fire Station is located in an area heavily populated by minorities, making the threatening social media posts especially inappropriate.
“We are honored and proud to live and participate in the communities we serve,” said Jenkins, adding Morris’ posts prompted threatening calls and general outcry on social media. “Unfortunately, a member of the Columbia Fire Department has discredited the reputation of the men and women who serve this Department.”
Wilson said city employees are held to a high standard – all of the time.
“As public servants, using the best judgment is paramount at all times. … Every man and woman who is employed by the City of Columbia is officially an ambassador for the City,” Wilson said. “Civility, respect and professionalism are characteristics that are not only expected, but required of everyone who represents the City of Columbia.”
Morris could file a grievance over his firing, said Jenkins, adding the Columbia Fire Department isn’t pursuing a criminal investigation. He allowed that law enforcement could pursue its own case against Morris.
Rutherford said this should serve as an example moving forward. He also called for unity, especially in difficult times.
“We’re in this together, like it or not. We have to co-exist,” Rutherford said. “Public officials must know we can’t control their thoughts, but we can control their actions.”
Statement from Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey D. Jenkins
The Columbia Fire Department has always had a positive reputation of providing professional standard of public service to its citizens, communities and visitors. We are honored and proud to live and participate in the communities we serve. Unfortunately, a member of the Columbia Fire Department has discredited the reputation of the men and women who serve this Department.
An employee with the Columbia Fire Department has been terminated as a result of conduct unbecoming of City of Columbia employee. This decision was made to ensure our communities that the Columbia Fire Department will not condone or tolerate this type of unprofessional behavior by any employee.
I would like to assure the citizens of the City of Columbia and Richland County that this one poor decision should not reflect the character, dedication and professionalism of the men and women of the Columbia Fire Department.
Statement from City Manager Teresa Wilson
I support the actions taken today by Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey D. Jenkins regarding the inappropriate actions of a former Columbia firefighter. As public servants, using the best judgment is paramount at all times. After conferring with Chief Jenkins and members of my management team, a unilateral decision was made earlier today to take swift and appropriate action. It was important for me to receive all necessary information regarding the incident in order to make the best decision on behalf of the City of Columbia.
As the City Manager, there are specific types of behavior and actions that I will not tolerate. Any actions taken to communicate or demonstrate a lack of respect for the lives and safety of others falls into the category of “zero tolerance.” Every man and woman who is employed by the City of Columbia is officially an ambassador for the City. Our employees represent the City of Columbia not only while they are in the workplace, but also while they are engaging with others in the community.
There are various references in the City of Columbia’s employee handbook regarding behavior, conduct and an employee’s role and responsibility when communicating and working with citizens/the public. It is the responsibility of each employee to adhere to these guidelines as outlined. At any time, when these policies are not followed, appropriate actions will be taken. As your civil servants, it is our duty to put the community first at all times. As City of Columbia employees, the personal conduct of staff, even in their own private lives, must be such that it will not reflect negatively on the City or discredit the City or fellow employees.
It is within this context, that I assure each citizen that I will do everything within my level of authority to ensure that these guidelines and policies are followed. I am committed to maintaining a high level of professionalism among our City work force. As we continue to monitor the climate and conditions of current events, I want to commend the many City employees who are maintaining a high level of service delivery. Our public safety staff is on the front lines and they are working diligently.
However through it all, Columbia has been a community that focuses on unity and working together to ensure that our citizens can live in a city that is focused on civility. Civility, respect and professionalism are characteristics that are not only expected, but required of everyone who represents the City of Columbia.
As a whole, our City employees are focused on doing the best job possible for our citizens and this will continue to be our major priority in the days, weeks and months to come. We thank all of our citizens for their love for our City and their commitment to our community.
Yours in service,
City Manager Teresa Wilson