Officer Facing Demotion Over Racist Joke Gets New Assignment

An Indiana firefighter who was accused of using a racial slur, has received a rather unusual penalty: he will now serve as the fire department’s liaison with an outside diversity consultant.

According to Courier & Press, Chad Emsweller of the Evansville Fire Department was accused of using a racial slur while telling what he believed to be a joke. Fire Chief Mike Connelly recommended Emsweller be demoted and serve a five-day suspension without pay. Emsweller had recently been promoted from Lieutenant to Fire Inspector in 2019.

At a January 14, 2020 meeting, Evansville Fire Department Merit Commissioner Talmadge Vick rejected Chief Connelly’s recommendation in favor of his own: “I’m looking at giving him a promotion vs. a demotion.” Commissioner Vick, who is black, said race-related problems in the department are systemic and demoting Emsweller, who is white, will not fix them.

Instead, he told Chief Connelly:

  • “I have a recommendation for you to talk to a diversity trainer who’s from the Evansville area, who has a Ph.D., who is a (University of Evansville) graduate, who understands Evansville and this environment.”
  • “What I’m going to recommend also…is that Chad (Emsweller) be a liaison to work with the diversity trainer, with yourself and with our commission.”

The merit commission unanimously supported the recommendation, which includes the five-day suspension and a one-year “zero-tolerance” probationary period.  Courier & Press quoted Chief Connelly as saying after the meeting:

  • “Talmadge Vick was very insightful in proposing a pathway to a solution to keep this problem from occurring in the future.”

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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