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Black firefighter alleges captain took him to racist party mocking Juneteenth

Jerrod Jones, a 14-year veteran with the Rochester Fire Department in New York, said the party took place at a private home in an affluent area of the city, according to a legal filing.
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A western New York fire captain allegedly pressured a Black firefighter while on duty to go to a party that mocked Juneteenth with racist imagery and featured images of elected officials with spikes running through them, according to a legal filing.

The firefighter, Jerrod Jones, said the party took place last month at a private home in an affluent area in Rochester, New York, a notice of claim filed Thursday stated. The filing is a notice of intent to file a lawsuit.

Jones and two other firefighters went to the party after their captain, Jeffrey Krywy, allegedly told them they should all go, according to the notice of claim, which names the city and its fire department.

Speaking at a news conference outside Rochester's City Hall on Thursday, Jones, a 14-year veteran with the Rochester Fire Department, said the experience "cut me very deeply."

“I decided to speak up today because I have two children who maybe one day will aspire to be firefighters, and I don’t want them ... I don't want them to have to experience what I experienced," he said.

"Traditionally, in the firehouse, we handle things like a family does — in-house. Things don't make it out to the public eye. But every once in a while, something happens that can't be handled in-house and this is one of those things. This is one of those times," he said.

According to the notice, Krywy, "as the officer in charge," had informed Jones and two other officers that he wanted to take the firetruck to attend a party located in the district.

"As a team, they always traveled together," the notice said and so, they traveled to the party in uniform. 

Jones "felt immediately uneasy, and his uneasiness intensified as he walked up the driveway and noticed a large cut out of former President Donald Trump," as it is against department rules to attend partisan political events, according to the filing. But it was only when he turned the corner at the end of the driveway, bringing the backyard party into full view, that he "became completely shocked," it said.

According to the notice, there were two large Juneteenth celebration flags decorating the lawn with buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken prominently displayed in “an apparent use of the racist trope recycled by bigots to mock Black Americans.”

The filing further said that someone at the party also appeared to have been impersonating Monroe County legislator Rachel Barnhart acting in a sexual manner as the crowd taunted her, yelling sexually explicit comments.

Jones could also see "pictures of local democratic politicians on stakes across the grass around the backyard," according to the filing.

At one point, "unable to leave and unsure of how to react," Jones expressed to his fellow firefighters that he felt like he was in the film "Get Out," the filing said.

Jones was eventually able to leave the party and later went to a superior to raise the issue and ask them to address it, the filing said. They said they would, but Jones was left shocked when he was assigned to work with the same captain for his next shift four days after raising the issue, prompting him to pursue further action.

The notice said Jones was on leave after suffering “emotional distress and fear of retaliation from Krywy and others.”

Speaking with NBC News in a phone interview Friday, Nate McMurray, the attorney representing Jones, said the firefighter “feels like his family has betrayed him. Because he gave his life to this department and he always knew that there were problems, but he always believed he was part of helping the problems go away.”

Barnhart also spoke at the news conference, thanking Jones for his courage in speaking out and condemning the party he was allegedly pressured to attend as a “vile, racist event” and an “affront to every single citizen in this city.”

“Firefighters are known for their bravery. Courage is not just running into a burning building,” she said. “Courage is also doing what firefighter Jones did today. Standing up to hate, forcing us to see wrongdoing at great personal and professional cost.”

“I’m so very sorry for what firefighter Jones has gone through,” she added.

Rochester Fire Department Chief Felipe Hernandez issued a statement Thursday calling the allegations “serious” and “unacceptable,” according to NBC affiliate WHEC of Rochester.

He said the city “immediately initiated an internal investigation” after receiving Jones’ “complaint of employee misconduct by his supervisor.”

“The allegations are serious, and the behavior described is unacceptable and an affront to everyone who works with the RFD and in City Hall,” Hernandez said.

He said an investigation had concluded and disciplinary action was “sent to the supervisor this week.” He said the supervisor would remain on suspension until the action was received and accepted, but did not expand on what the disciplinary action was.

“This remains an active personnel matter, so we cannot comment further,” Hernandez said.

The Rochester Fire Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Phone and LinkedIn messages seeking comment were left with Krywy, the fire captain at the center of the allegations.

The filing listed the address of the party, identifying it as the home of Dr. Nicholas Nicosia, a dentist and member of the board of directors at Highland Hospital, an affiliate of the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Nicosia’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a tweet Thursday, the hospital said it was “appalled” at the allegations and was trying to reach Nicosia.

“Activities such as those described in these allegations are an affront to Highland’s mission and values,” it said. NBC News contacted the hospital for further comment.