Interim Fairfax fire chief investigating racist posts about incoming chief

WASHINGTON — John Butler hasn’t started his job as Fairfax County fire chief yet, but an anonymous website that focuses on the county has started to display racist posts about him.

It’s the same website that included discussions of Fairfax County firefighter Nicole Mittendorff, before and after she died. And now the interim fire chief wants to make sure the racist posts aren’t coming from fire department employees.

Interim Chief John Caussin has sent an internal email reminding all staff they’re empowered to forward information about the author or authors of the offensive posts, and that anyone who does so will be kept anonymous.

In a statement, Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill has said any employee found to be posting racist, sexist, harassing or retaliatory comments will be subject to severe disciplinary action.

“It saddens me that in 2018 our country continues to deal with the hateful actions of a select few,” he said.

Currently the head of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, Butler begins the job in Fairfax on Sept. 1. He told WTOP in an exclusive interview that the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department will be a “dignified and respectful workplace for all.”

He has “respectfully declined” interview requests on the racist posts.

The email from Interim Chief Caussin was first reported on the blog STATter911:

Fire and Rescue Department Colleagues,

Late on Tuesday local blogger Dave Statter informed the County Office of Public Affairs that he would be posting a commentary on the racist remarks recently posted on Fairfax Underground about new Fire and Rescue Chief John Butler. County Executive Hill provided the statement below. This story has, or will be appearing in more local media and on other social media platforms over the next several days. The CEX, DCEX and I have connected with Chief Butler and he is aware of this issue. He agrees the statement represents our common message and will not be commenting at this time.

The County Executive’s statement reflects my values as the Acting Fire Chief as well as our Department’s Core Values. Every man and woman that makes up this great department should be living these same values. Our Professional Standards Office continues to investigate these posts. Every member of the Department is empowered to forward any information regarding the authors of these posts directly to the Professional Standards Officer. Your confidentiality will be maintained.

“Racist, sexist, harassing or retaliatory comments like those on Fairfax Underground are reprehensible. However, those comments do not deter from the mission to protect and serve our great residents. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors supports a zero tolerance approach to this type of conduct within all facets of Fairfax County Government. At this time we don’t know who is responsible for the posts, but an investigation is underway. Any employee found to have participated in posting these comments will be subject to severe disciplinary action. It saddens me that in 2018 our country continues to deal with the hateful actions of a select few.”

Thank you for your continued focus on our mission and moving the FRD forward.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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