Delaware Firefighter Facing Hate Crime Charges

A Delaware firefighter who was expelled from his fire company in July over a social media meme, is now facing criminal hate crime charges. Michael D. Cook, 55, a member of the Cranston Heights Fire Company, has been charged with two counts of committing a hate crime, and three counts of harassment over a meme he shared on June 26, 2020.

According to Delaware Online, the meme showed a white man holding a shotgun with the words “Black Lives Matter” on the top of the image and “So if you want your black head to stay attached to your black ass, stay away from my stuff” on the bottom. Cook sent the meme to three colleagues, two of whom were black and one of whom was white but has black family members.

The Cranston Heights Fire Company issued an information release today stating:

  • On July 18, 2020, the leadership of the Cranston Heights Fire Company became aware of an incident that had taken place in late June involving volunteer member Michael Cook, members of the Fire Company’s career staff, and one of the New Castle County Paramedics who works on the unit housed at Cranston Height’s fire station. The Cranston Heights Fire Company launched an immediate investigation and found that the incident involved the sharing of offensive racially motivated social media materials by Cook with others. Regardless of his motivation for doing so, that behavior was completely unacceptable. Cranston Heights immediately suspended Cook pending the outcome of the investigation, and at the conclusion of the investigation on July 23, 2020, he was expelled from the Fire Company. Cranston Heights Fire Company learned during this time that the New Castle County Police Department was also investigating the incident and the Fire Company cooperated completely with that investigation. As reported, Cook has now been arrested on charges associated with that incident.
  • Cranston Heights Fire Company is confident in the swift, decisive action it took in this matter and has zero tolerance for this type of conduct. Membership at Cranston Heights is open to all qualified persons regardless of age, sex, race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. Further, Cranston Heights Fire Company appreciates those who stepped forward in this matter, thus enabling us to act swiftly and decisively to eradicate this type of behavior from our Company and its station, which we strive to maintain as a safe, welcoming, and inclusive haven for all of our members, staff, and guests.
  • No further statements on this incident will be forthcoming from the Cranston Heights Fire Company and further inquiry should be directed to the New Castle County Police Department or the Delaware Department of Justice.

More on the story.

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.

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