Virginia Firefighter Fired Following Trump Inauguration Protest Files Suit

A Henrico County, Virginia firefighter who was arrested for rioting at Presidents Trump’s inauguration in 2017, and was later terminated for lying to investigators, has filed suit in federal court claiming the department violated her 1st Amendment Rights.

Rosa Dianne Roncales was fired on April 5, 2017 for “discrepancies” she gave to fire department investigators relative to her involvement in the rioting and vandalism that occurred in Washington, DC on January 20, 2017. Charges against over 200 protesters were dismissed in July 2018.

According to the complaint:

  • Ms. Roncales was notable within the Henrico Fire Department as she was one of a very few female firefighters and was openly gay.
  • Ms. Roncales recalls politics being an open topic of conversation at the Henrico Fire Department Conservative media outlet Fox News was played on station televisions, and firefighters outwardly demonstrated their support for known conservative organizations like the National Rifle Association.
  • According to Ms. Roncales, the overall political atmosphere of the Henrico Fire Department was conservative.
  • Shortly after the election of Donald Trump as President in November of 2016, Ms. Roncales posted a graphic on her personal Facebook page of a Swastika draped in an American flag with the following quote from Sinclair Lewis, “[w]hen fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.”
  • Following her Facebook post, she was confronted by Lieutenant Robby Owens and Station Captain Ronnie Thomas. Lieutenant Owens and Captain Thomas called Ms. Roncales into a private office and asked her directly why she posted the graphic and what she meant by it.
  • On January 20, 2017, Ms. Roncales protested the election of Donald Trump at his inauguration in Washington, DC along with thousands of others across the city.
  • Ms. Roncales attended the protest on her own time and wore no clothing or other marking that would identify her as a member of Henrico Fire Department.
  • Ms. Roncales, along with over 200 other protesters, were arrested as a group and charged with a number or felonies including inciting to riot, rioting, and destruction of property.
  • Ms. Roncales participated in two interrogations … first on January 30th and again on February 7th.
  • Both interrogations were audio recorded.
  • On February 7th Ms. Roncales was asked specifically if she had a “gas mask” in her backpack.
  • She answered truthfully, that no, she did not have a gas mask.
  • Ms. Roncales did have a standard respirator in her backpack.
  • Ms. Roncales was not asked if she had a respirator.
  • She was not asked generally if she had any devices “like .. a gas mask or some device used to protect against the breathing of harmful chemicals, or something to that effect.
  • Significantly, Ms. Roncales was also asked during the February 7th meeting why she went to the protest and if she agreed with the political view of the protestors (or something to that effect).
  • She said that yes, she did agree with the political view of the protestors.

Roncales filed the suit pro se and under relief sought states that she is seeking to have her termination converted to a voluntary resignation, and damages “in excess of $250,000”.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
x

Check Also

Newark Firefighter Loses Appeal of Termination

A Newark firefighter who was terminated in 2016 after falling asleep in a firehouse kitchen, missing a run, and testing positive for drugs and alcohol, has lost his appeal to the Appellate Division of the NJ Superior Court. Antonio Cruz had asked the court to overturn a decision by the NJ Civil Service Commission

Fired Massachusetts Chief Sues Selectmen Alleging Termination Was Political

A Massachusetts fire chief who simultaneously served as a member of the town’s Board of Selectmen, is now suing the board and the other selectmen over his termination last February. Fire Chief Ernest J. Cardillo, Jr. filed suit last week in US District Court accusing the Town of Stockbridge and the selectmen with violating his civil rights under federal and state law.