Florida sued after depicting Black firefighter as white in mural

The city’s public arts manager says she was pressued to alter the mural by a fire chief

Bevan Hurley
Monday 11 October 2021 20:05
<p>Latosha Clemons is suing the city of Boynton Beach</p>

Latosha Clemons is suing the city of Boynton Beach

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The first Black female firefighter ever hired by a south Florida city has filed a $100,000 lawsuit alleging defamation and negligence after it unveiled a mural showing her depicted as a white woman.

Former Boynton Beach deputy fire chief Latosha Clemons claims the artwork. which was commissioned to honour her 25-year career with the fire department, had been deliberately altered, causing her emotional and financial distress.

“Being depicted as white was not only a false presentation of Clemons, it was also a depiction which completely disrespected all that Clemons, the first female black firefighter for the city, had accomplished, her determination, focus and hard work,” the lawsuit reads.

The original photograph that Ms Clemons approved for use in the mural

The ‘whitewashed’ mural

The controversy over the mural began in 2019, when Ms Clemons approved use of the photograph of her and two other firefighters to be used to create a public work by the Boynton Beach City Art Commission.

But when the mural was unveiled in June 2020, “it did not reflect Clemons as the Black member of the city fire department. Instead, it was altered and reflected her as a White member of the city Fire Department,” the complaint said.

The mural also altered an image of Boynton Fire Chief Glenn Joseph, a Black man, showing him as white.

The city’s public art manager Debby Coles-Dobay was fired soon afterwards. She later told the Palm Beach Post she was “pressured” to make changes to the mural by a former fire chief, who was demoted before resigning.

The lawsuit, filed in April, alleges “the actions of the city were done intentionally and knowingly to defame and injure Clemons”.

She is now seeking a jury trial to decide the case.

The Boynton Beach City Commission told CNN it will meet in a closed-door session to discuss the litigation this week.

Ms Clemons joined the city fire department in 1996 and rose to the rank of deputy fire chief before retiring in 2020.

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