Florida City Sued Over Mural Depicting First Black Female Firefighter as White

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Latosha Clemons, who roseate to the fertile of lawman occurrence main successful Boynton Beach, Fla., said the mural’s misrepresentation of her had caused her intelligence and affectional harm.

Latosha Clemons discussing the mural past  year. Her suit  against Boynton Beach, Fla., seeks much  than $30,000 successful  damages.
Credit...Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post, via Zuma Wire

Neil Vigdor

Oct. 11, 2021, 6:16 p.m. ET

The metropolis had ne'er had a Black pistillate arsenic a firefighter earlier Latosha Clemons, but past twelvemonth erstwhile she glimpsed a publically commissioned mural depicting her, she said, she didn’t admit herself: She was white.

The mural, created arsenic a model covering for a caller occurrence presumption successful Boynton Beach, Fla., arsenic portion of a nationalist creation inaugural sponsored by the city, had changed the tegument colour of Ms. Clemons and that of a erstwhile occurrence main who is besides Black. The representation of Ms. Clemons, taken from a photograph of her with 2 achromatic pistillate firefighters, had been substantially altered.

Now, Ms. Clemons, 48, who roseate to the fertile of lawman main of the Boynton Beach Fire Rescue Department earlier retiring successful 2020, is suing the metropolis for defamation, libel and negligence. The metropolis has denied the allegations, and it apologized past twelvemonth for the depiction of Ms. Clemons and the erstwhile occurrence main successful the mural, which was instantly removed.

In the lawsuit, filed successful April successful Circuit Court successful Palm Beach County, Ms. Clemons said that the mural’s misrepresentation of her had caused her intelligence and affectional harm and had damaged her reputation.

“The unveiling of the mural was humiliating, achy and demoralizing,” Ms. Clemons said successful a connection issued by her lawyer connected Monday. “After providing the metropolis of Boynton Beach with a beingness of nonrecreational occurrence service, to beryllium whitewashed and not memorialized for who I americium volition everlastingly unrecorded with me. As the archetypal and lone Black pistillate successful the department, I deserved the respect I earned connected a regular ground serving the citizens of Boynton Beach and deserved to beryllium recognized for who I am: a Black woman.”

In an email connected Monday, James A. Cherof, a lawyer for the metropolis of Boynton Beach, said that helium could not remark connected pending litigation, but referred to a Sept. 21 tribunal filing successful which the metropolis disputed Ms. Clemons’s allegations.

In the filing, Boynton Beach officials contended that the metropolis employees who were liable for altering the plan for the mural had failed to adhere to the plan approved by the City’s Art Commission and were acting extracurricular of the scope of their employment without the city’s cognition oregon consent. Boynton Beach, which has a colonisation of astir 78,000, is successful Palm Beach County and is astir 33 miles northbound of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

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Credit...City of Boynton Beach

Two of the metropolis officials who were progressive successful the project, who are some white, were removed from their jobs past year, The Palm Beach Post reported.

In an email connection connected Monday, the city’s erstwhile nationalist arts manger, Debby Coles-Dobay, said that she had been pressured by apical occurrence officials to marque changes to the mural. She said that the intent of the task was to sphere the Fire Rescue Department’s civilization and pridefulness portion gathering beardown assemblage relations.

“It was not to ‘honor the publication of Fire Rescue Department employees’ arsenic published successful the metropolis statements,” Ms. Coles-Dobay said. “Prior to artwork installation, senior-level unit Chief Matthew Petty and Fire Marshal Kathy Cline refused to o.k. the installation and directed maine to convey the changes to beryllium made.”

Mr. Petty, who was occurrence main astatine the clip of the mural task and near the section past year, hung up the telephone erstwhile reached for remark connected Monday.

Ms. Cline and Lori LaVerriere, the metropolis manager for Boynton Beach, did not instantly respond to requests for remark connected Monday.

In a YouTube video posted successful June 2020, Ms. LaVerriere said that she had not been alert of the changes to the mural’s plan and expressed regret. She said that the images had been altered truthful individuals would not beryllium identifiable.

“It went mode excessively far,” Ms. LaVerriere said. “I privation to apologize. This should person ne'er happened.”

Glenn Joseph, who is Black and was the erstwhile occurrence main depicted successful the mural arsenic white, declined to remark connected Monday.

Ms. Clemons is seeking much than $30,000 successful damages successful the lawsuit, which said that the metropolis had a work to represent her accurately.

“The metropolis breached that duty,” the suit said, “by allowing the mural to picture Clemons arsenic idiosyncratic of a wholly antithetic race, white, a contention the metropolis presumably felt amended acceptable the representation it was looking to project.”

Susan Beachy contributed research.

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