The firefighter who reported finding a knotted rope and a drawing of a noose in an East Baltimore station house is in the process of being fired for unrelated issues, Fire Department officials said yesterday.
Donald Maynard, a six-year veteran who reported the discoveries, acknowledged last week that he was the one who brought the items into the station house.
Even before that admission, Maynard, who is black, had been suspended without pay for failing to complete emergency medical technician-intermediate training or making any plans to do so, said Roman Clark, a department spokesman.
The note Maynard said he found Nov. 21 read: "We cant hang the cheaters but we can hang the failures. NO EMT-I, NO JOB."
Officials said Maynard had until Nov. 30 to complete EMT training.
The purported finding of the rope and note set off a new round of racial tension within the department, already under criticism for race-related hiring and promotion issues. After news of the incident was reported, cars stopped at Maynard's station house and drivers made threatening remarks to members, a firefighters union leader said.
"They were afraid for their own safety," said Richard G. Schluderberg, president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734. "Any time you make false racial allegations, I think it does more to harm racial relations."
Maynard's official status is now "suspended pending termination." The Fire Department will make its case for termination at an administrative hearing. No date has been set.
The incident comes at the end of a difficult year for the city Fire Department. A cadet died during a fire training exercise that was found to have violated dozens of national safety standards. The department was investigated internally for an off-the-books account that was used to purchase equipment, circumventing the city's purchasing requirements.
The chief announced his resignation last month, effective at the end of the year, saying the questions surrounding the death of the recruit were proving to be too much of a distraction to the department.
And on Friday, a report by the city's inspector general found that top performers on two June promotion exams probably cheated amid poor security.
Yesterday, city officials clarified the circumstances under which the note and rope were found. While initial reports indicated that the items were found in the Herman Williams Jr. fire station at East 25th Street and Kirk Avenue, officials now say that Maynard presented the note and rope.
"He walked in with it in his pocket and pulled it out and said, 'Hey, look what I found,'" said Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon and the Police Department, which investigated the incident and interviewed Maynard on Friday.
If Maynard were not already in the process of being fired, "there would be some pretty severe disciplinary action," Clifford said.
Maynard, a firefighter-paramedic apprentice who could not be reached for comment yesterday, will not face criminal charges. Maynard's actions do not fit the city or federal definition of a hate crime, Clifford said; neither can he be charged with filing a false police report because, when officers talked to him Friday, he admitted what he had done.
"Everyone in city government went to great trouble and expense, and he cast a tremendous amount of doubt and speculation on good firefighters who didn't deserve that," Clifford said. "It's absolutely a big deal. There's just not a crime to charge him with."
But Schluderberg and others said the state's attorney should look into possible criminal charges. They asked why events that were first called a hate crime by civil rights leaders now wouldn't be prosecuted.
"I believe it to be a double standard," Schluderberg said. "Had it turned out to be Caucasian or some other race [that left the note], they would have been demanding someone's head."
Clifford said: "The FBI determined, along with the Baltimore Police Department, that this incident was not what it originally appeared to be. ... You can't have threats based on race in the firehouse. This turned out not to be that. We're all relieved that it's not."
An FBI spokeswoman said last night that the federal bureau has closed its investigation.
Racial strife is nothing new at the Baltimore Fire Department. In the 1970s, black firefighters formed a group to represent themselves, feeling that the other unions were not looking out for their rights.
In 2004, the department faced a public relations nightmare when it was revealed that its class of recruits was entirely white. Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. took steps to diversify the class.
Last week, the city's inspector general reported that five black firefighters likely had cheated on a promotion exam. The report said the firefighters, who earned top scores on the June 2 test, studied from a 2001 exam that contained similar questions to this year's test.
Henry Burris, president of the Vulcan Blazers, which represents black firefighters, accused the firefighters unions of instigating the investigation, an allegation that they deny.
"I believe that under Chief Goodwin, there has been a design for the exclusion of African-Americans in the Fire Department," Burris said. "It stems from a culture that's pervasive in American society."
But Stephen G. Fugate, head of the city fire officers union and a 33-year veteran of the department, said its promotions and hiring favor blacks and that white firefighters are unjustly punished.
"Based upon my experience, particularly in the last 10 to 15 years, if there are racially motivated inequities in the department, it is not against the African-American members," Fugate said. "It's typically against the Caucasian members."
The inspector general's report on the June 2 exam also said white firefighters apparently copied from each other. It recommended that the test be administered again.