WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — 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 the latest fallout over racist, sexist and homophobic texts and images exchanged by first responders in Wichita.
The message was discovered during an investigation of inappropriate group texts shared by members of the Wichita Police Department and Sedgwick County Sherriff’s office, but wasn’t part of that batch of texts.
Capt. Keith Niemann, who was punished this month, shared the sweater image in a WhatsApp chat with the message, “having a good morning at the firehouse,” The Wichita Eagle reported.
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 haven’t been made public.
Fire Chief Tammy Snow said she is “deeply disappointed” in the two supervisors, who had previously served as medics on the SWAT team. They have returned to work. Niemann is no longer on the SWAT team.
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 said she thinks the city is trying to “make an example” out of Niemann, who was originally given a reprimand, because the police department was criticized for giving light punishments to its implicated officers. A committee appointed by the Wichita city manager issued a report in April saying department leaders didn’t adequately discipline police department members.
Some of the 10-plus officers caught up in the investigation had fatally shot people and sent messages joking about shooting and beating people, but Yeager said Neimann was not part of that conversation. Those officers 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.