Arbitration hearing held for demoted fire captain

Brian Beckmann demoted to firefighter after post about Trayvon Martin

MIAMI – An arbitration hearing began for a former Miami-Dade County fire captain who was demoted after he posted comments about Trayvon Martin following the teenager's shooting death.

Former fire captain Brian Beckmann sat with a team of union and personal attorneys at the hearing on Monday.

Beckmann was demoted in May after making the post, which read, "I and my co-workers 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."

A blogger published the post, which sparked protest in Miami's African-American community.

Miami-Dade Fire Chief William "Shorty" Bryson testified Monday that Mayor Carlos Gimenez pressured him to terminate Beckmann.

Bryson said he only wanted to suspend Beckmann for 14 days and Gimenez initially agreed with that punishment. But Bryson said after Gimenez met with African-American activists, he demanded that Beckmann be fired. At the time, Gimenez was running for office.

As a comprise, Bryson agreed to demote Beckmann from captain to firefighter.

The testimony is significant because Beckmann is asking the arbitrator to reinstate him because he believes his right to due process was violated. He says the determination of his punishment was based on politics and not objective judgment by his supervisors.

Assistant County Attorney Bill Candela said Beckmann violated the county's social media policy by speaking on behalf of his fellow coworkers in his private post.

"They were divisive, insulting, and offensive," he said about the post. "There's no room in a civil society for a public servant, as a captain of the fire department, to make these disparaging remarks."

Matthew J. Mierzwa, Jr., Beckmann's attorney, said the personal post doesn't specifically name the Miami-Dade County Fire Department, and his Facebook page only shows a picture of Beckmann, giving no indication he works there.

"A member of the public couldn't read this and know that Brian Beckmann was a county employee," he said.

Mierzwa said Beckmann posted the remarks from his home computer, and they were only made public because a fellow fire captain, an African-American woman named Faye Davis, took a screen shot of the post, sent it to the blogger, and told him who Beckmann was.

"We believe that the issue really arose here because of other employees, Faye Davis in particular, taking that herself in violation of county policy to publish it throughout the community. This is Faye Davis' manipulation," he said.

Mierzwa added that Beckmann has an impeccable record over his 14 year career with the department.

Some of those still upset with Beckmann's post were at the hearing.

"I think he got basically what he deserves," said Ozzie Cox.

"But he didn't apologize to our community, so undoubtedly he still feels that way about our community, and we're to say that's totally unacceptable. He really needs to be fired," said Rev. Nathaniel Wilcox, executive director of P.U.L.S.E.

Beckmann is expected to testify on Feb. 5. The arbitrator has 90 days to make a decision on whether he should be reinstated.