IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

White Kansas fire supervisor suspended over photo of racist sweater

This is the latest accusation of racism for Wichita safety officials; the fire supervisor was suspended without pay for three days.
/ Source: Associated Press

A white Wichita Fire Department supervisor who texted a photo of himself wearing a sweater featuring a naked Black man has been suspended for three days without pay in one of the harshest penalties yet over racist, homophobic and sexist texts that were shared among the city’s SWAT team members.

Capt. Keith Niemann, who was punished this month, shared the image in a WhatsApp chat with the message, “having a good morning at the firehouse,” The Wichita Eagle reported. Niemann wore a sweater that featured a viral image of a naked Black man, Wardy "Wood" Joubert III, sitting on the edge of a bed — known as "Wood Sitting On a Bed." The photo became a popular meme during the first year of the pandemic.

Niemann's sweater read, "I have a big package for you," and featured a Christmas gift covering Joubert's genitals, according to The Wichita Eagle. Another white fire supervisor was also disciplined for sending an image showing a naked Black man doctored into a scene from the popular holiday movie “A Christmas Story.” But that supervisor’s identity and punishment have not been made public.

Fire Chief Tammy Snow said she is “deeply disappointed” in the two supervisors, who served as medics on the SWAT team.

Niemann was initially reprimanded and placed on paid leave but later received a three-day unpaid suspension. Stephanie Yeager, the business manager for the local branch of the union that represents the firefighters, the International Association of Fire Fighters, said Niemann was sorry and didn’t understand the significance of the image.

She accused the city of trying to “make an example” out of Niemann because the police department was criticized for giving light punishments to its implicated officers. Yeager was referring to the investigation that stemmed from reports that Wichita Police Department officers exchanged several racist, sexist and homophobic texts and images from 2015 to 2021. Leaders criticized the department for failing to adequately discipline the officers involved. Some of the 10-plus officers caught up in the investigation had fatally shot people and sent messages joking about shooting and beating people. They were given coaching and mentoring.

The only officer put on leave for a few days was one who insulted former chief Gordon Ramsay.

The interim police chief, Lemuel Moore, could give additional punishment to police officers. He has forwarded his recommendations to the city’s legal department.

Yeager said Niemann’s punishment was harsher than any of the officers’ and the union may appeal the disciplinary decision.

“I don’t know that making him a scapegoat, which is surely what it feels like, is the way we should be handling this when we have officers in there that we know are involved with shooting people and they are … clapping it up about it,” she told The Wichita Eagle.

Wichita safety officials have faced compounding criticism this year, and the incident with the fire supervisors is just the latest accusation of racism for the authorities. In April, an employee at a Wichita juvenile center said an officer changed his answers on an intake form for 17-year-old Cedric Lofton, who died while in custody. Advocates and a lawyer for Lofton's family said the officer's act ultimately deprived Lofton of medical care that could have saved his life.

“If the WPD officer followed standard policies and procedures, Cedric would have been taken to the hospital and this 17-year-old young Black teenager would be alive today. At every level, the WPD, the foster care system and the Juvenile Intake Center failed Cedric,”  Andrew M. Stroth, an attorney for Lofton’s family told NBC News.

Follow NBCBLK on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.