MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A Miami-Dade fire captain under fire for his controversial Facebook comments in the Trayvon Martin case has been demoted. Captain Brian Beckmann fell from the top of the command in his firehouse to the lowest rank of firefighter.
“The comments made by Captain Beckmann were reprehensible and will not be tolerated,” said Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a former fire chief, after word of the discipline was made public. “We can’t have our employees, especially a supervisor, making such disparaging comments about any member of our community, much less one of our own employees.”
In addition to the loss of rank, the 17-year-fire department veteran’s paycheck will take a major hit because a firefighter’s salary is dramatically less than a fire captain. The amount is still unclear but CBS4 found Beckman made $125,616 as a Captain during a 2007 investigation done on firefighter salaries.
Before returning to work Beckmann will have to undergo a psychological examination by a county doctor and be required to take diversity training courses.
Beckmann, with the help of the firefighter union, is expected to appeal the demotion.
“Today the Fire Chief demoted Brian Beckmann by two supervisory ranks back to the rank of Firefighter. As union President, I believe this discipline is excessive,” said Rowan Taylor in a statement. “We will immediately file an appeal to an independent arbitrator. We anticipate that the case will be heard within the next few months. The decision of the independent arbitrator will be final and binding.”
Under county union contracts, that appeal will go to an arbitrator who may uphold, reverse, or offer up a new discipline order. The process of appeal could take up to six months. In the meantime Beckmann will have to work as a firefighter.
The disciplinary action against Beckmann stems from racially charged comments made on his personal Facebook page.
The Facebook post that started the firestorm of controversy claimed, “I and my coworkers could rewrite the book on whether our urban youths are victims of racist profiling or products of their failed, *expletive*, ignorant, pathetic, welfare dependent excuses for parents,” in cases like the shooting death of unarmed Miami teen Trayvon Martin.
Beckmann denied writing the Facebook message when interviewed by the Human Resources department. Instead, Beckmann said he copy and pasted the message from another website.
“I was reading things that evoked s response in me that made me want to share it,” Beckmann told an interviewer. These “were not my words.”
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue had launched an investigation into whether any county policies were violated by the posting, which critics said was racist.
In the county’s 11-page social media policy, there is just one paragraph regarding personal opinions that reads “do it on your own time, make clear that you are speaking from your own point of view.”
Beckmann has defended the post. He told CBS4 News partner the Miami Herald that he was a ‘private citizen and has the same right to freely express an opinion on any subject that anyone else does’.
Beckmann made the Facebook post on the same day State Attorney Angela Corey announced that Sanford neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman was being charged with second-degree murder in the Trayvon Martin shooting. Martin, a Miami Gardens teen, was unarmed. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense.
However, Mayor Gimenez believes the county needs to take strong action now to look at social media policy.
“In order to avoid this from happening in the future, I have directed my staff to revise the appropriate policies dealing with this issue. It is important to reiterate my position that public servants have a responsibility to uphold the highest levels of integrity and decency, especially when you consider our multicultural, multi-ethnic community. There’s no such thing as being off-the-clock; we are public servants 24/7 and must conduct ourselves with the utmost professionalism at all times.”