Dentist’s Defamation Suit Contradicts Rochester Firefighter’s Lawsuit Over Juneteenth Spoof

The sensational case of an African American firefighter in Rochester, New York who claims to have been forced to attend a racist house party while on duty, has taken a dramatic turn as the party’s host has a filed a defamation suit against the firefighter’s attorney and an elected official who made public statements about what occurred.

Dr. Nicholas Nicosia, a Rochester dentist who hosted the event in question, claims he is the victim of a “hate crime hoax,” which irreparably damaged his dental practice. He filed suit against attorney Nathan McMurray and Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart alleging both defamed him and tortiously interfered with his contractual and business relations.

The suit stems from allegations by Rochester firefighter Jerrod Jones that he was ordered by a white captain to attend the July 7, 2022 party at Dr. Nocosia’s house. Jones claims that the event mocked Juneteenth, and was replete with overtly racist overtones. McMurray and his law firm, Advocates for Justice, filed a race discrimination suit on Jones’ behalf against the City of Rochester and the captain in May, 2023 seeking $5 million in damages.

Dr. Nicosia claims McMurray and Barnhart made maliciously false statements about him and the party in a deliberate effort to “cancel” him. He says the false statements led to his being ostracized personally and professionally, as well as threats to him and his practice. The complaint alleges that several members of his staff quit and that he lost over 30% of his patients as a result. Quoting from the complaint:

  • Plaintiff, Nicholas Nicosia, brings this complaint for defamation of his person and trade defamation and tortious interference with his business, Nicosia Dental, for the hate crime hoax perpetrated against him by Nathan McMurray and Rachel Barnhart.
  • After a small party at his residence, Defendants, who did not even attend, started publicly exclaiming and publishing, up to the present, statements that Nicosia had held a “racist Juneteenth spoof party.”
  • Bizarrely, the party was not even held during the month of June (it was held July 7).
  • Nevertheless, Defendants claimed that a guest, Jerrod Jones, who happens to be Black, was openly mocked and humiliated because of his race.
  • Barnhart, a county politician and self-proclaimed “progressive,” who is white, jumped on the bandwagon, exclaiming, “It’s really easy to cancel the Nicosias!”
  • Barnhart also claimed that a likeness of herself had been put on “spikes” simulating “violence” and “death,” and also that she was sexualized by a stripper at the party.
  • Of course, nothing of the sort took place. But the hate crime hoax ginned up by Defendants proved immune to the truth.
  • It was reported as fact in the Rochester media and has ruined Nicosia’s life. Nicosia suffered real, tangible damage.
  • In August 2022 alone, his dental practice plummeted 36.3% and never recovered; long-trusted employees walked out after receiving death threats, and Nicosia himself was and is targeted to this day by hate mail and threats of violence instigated by Defendants.
  • Hate crime hoaxes have been defined by the Black scholar, political scientist, and public intellectual, Professor Wilfred Reilly as a “cottage industry” in which individuals, in this case exemplified by Nicosia, are smeared as “racists” over invented stories of extreme discrimination.
  • As described by Professor Reilly, hate crime hoaxes may not constitute real, actionable crimes, but often involve false allegations or elaborate hoaxes to make it seem as if racism or racist crimes occurred.
  • The defining feature of a hate crime hoax is the hoax: false allegations of racism or outrageous acts of racial discrimination for the purpose of attracting media attention.
  • These hoaxes have become so distressingly common that attorneys such as Defendant McMurray or self-anointed “progressive” politicians such as Barnhardt can and do promote their careers by ginning up hate crime hoaxes, regardless of the damage done, not only, in this case, to Nicosia but to race relations in municipalities such as Rochester.
  • To promote their hate crime hoax, Defendants spread false, malicious statements about specific facts concerning a private party at Plaintiff’s home, which they knew to be false or which they published with reckless disregard for the truth.
  • Defendants made these false statements about a private individual, specifically Nicosia, to further their own political careers and for their own financial gain.
  • Defendants’ false statements were reckless and malicious, through which Defendants created the widespread belief that Nicosia had thrown a “racist” party to mock the Juneteenth holiday.
  • To associate the party at Nicosia’s residence with a spoof of Juneteenth was itself bizarre because the party, held on July 7, 2022, was after the July 4 holiday, with no connection to Juneteenth.
  • Defendants’ false and malicious statements had the intended effect of “cancelling” Nicosia, including forcing his removal from organizations, boards, and social clubs. This severely damaged his life-long dental practice.
  • Defendants’ hate crime hoax caused threats of harm and violence to be directed at Nicosia, his employees, and even his children, who had nothing to do with the July 7 party.
  • Defendants’ false statements were intended to harm Plaintiff and his business, as Defendant Rachel Barnhart even bragged, in a public statement on or around August 12, 2022, tweeting, “It’s really easy to cancel the Nicosias!”
  • But it should not be “easy” to spread false and malicious statements or destroy any New York citizen’s life and reputation.
  • In particular, the politician Defendant Barnhart brags to this day of “canceling” her own constituents who reside in her district.
  • On July 7, 2022, Plaintiff’s wife hosted a small, private gathering.
  • The gatherings’ theme was vaguely political, both celebrating national and local conservative politicians and ridiculing local democratic politicians, including Defendant Barnhardt.
  • There was also a “Happy Birthday” banner as part of the décor.
  • Approximately 10 guests attended the gathering.
  • One partygoer invited a friend, whom Nicosia otherwise did not know, Fire Captain Jeff Krywy. Nicosia had never met Captain Krywy before July 7, 2022.
  • Decorations for the party included American flags, red, white, and blue bunting, decorations commemorating Fourth of July, Juneteenth, cardboard snowflakes, a happy birthday banner, and cut outs of national and local politicians.
  • None of these decorations mocked Juneteenth, sexualized Barnhart, projected “violence,” signified “death,” and neither can these decorations be remotely construed as “spoofing” Juneteenth or ridiculing Black Americans.
  • One small Juneteenth sign was approximately 9” tall and proclaimed, “Juneteeth Freedom Day.” It was placed upright in a planter of oregano.
  • There were also cocktail napkins promoting the Rochester candidate for the 25th Congressional
  • District, La’ron Singletary, who is Black and Rochester’s former Police Chief.
  • No reasonable person can consider these items “racist” or “spoofing Juneteenth.”
  • During the gathering, Nicosia was surprised when Captain Krywy showed up at the private gathering with his fire crew, on duty.
  • Nicosia initially thought that the fire crew was responding to a gas leak or some other emergency. It turned out that they had come to enjoy the patio party.
  • Among the firefighters was Jerrod Jones, who is Black.
  • Nicosia welcomed the fire crew to his home, including, of course, Jones. Nicosia offered them food and beverages.
  • The crew accepted bottled water but declined food, with the exception of fireman Jerrod Jones, who ate a cupcake.
  • The fire crew stayed at the gathering approximately 30-40 minutes.
  • Weeks after the patio party, Defendant McMurray on behalf of Jerrod Jones filed a complaint against Captain Krywy and the city of Rochester for the fire crews’ attendance at the gathering.
  • Nicosia does not sue based on these false statements, which are protected by Jerrod Jones’ petitioning right.
  • However, Defendant McMurray immediately embarked upon a public smear campaign of false statements far beyond his client’s petition, intended to ruin Nicosia’s business and reputation.
  • Defendant Nathan McMurray held and holds himself out as Jerrod Jones’ attorney.
  • Defendant McMurray is a failed, would-be “progressive” politician hoping to revive his dismal political career after repeated unsuccessful runs at political office.
  • Defendant McMurray works for an organization that holds itself out as “Advocates for Justice.”
  • Defendant McMurray has developed a practice of bringing frivolous lawsuits over hate crime hoaxes on behalf of clients, in addition to other meritless lawsuits.
  • The claims McMurray brings are frequently dismissed when the supposed racial discrimination he alleges proves baseless.
  • This time around, Defendant McMurray’s brought a complaint on behalf of Fireman Jerrod Jones, alleging racial discrimination against Captain Krywy and the municipal Fire Department.
  • Yet the facts alleged by McMurray centered solely on Nicosia’s home and the July 7 party and contained many false statements about Plaintiff and the July 7 party.
  • At a public press conference on August 11, 2022, Defendant McMurray characterized the July 7, 2022 patio party as a “Juneteenth spoof party.”
  • In the press conference, Defendant McMurray openly defamed Nicosia.
  • The day before, on August 10, 2022, Defendant McMurray knowingly and recklessly posted false and malicious information about Nicosia on Twitter, writing “Black Rochester Firefighter Forced to Attend Juneteenth Spoof Party While on Duty.”
  • Defendant McMurray, claiming this as a fact, further falsely alleging that the party “featured shocking displays of racism and misogyny.”
  • Defendant McMurray later identified Nicosia and his place of business by name and
  • address, setting off an avalanche of hate mail and harassment of Nicosia.
  • As McMurray knew, the party had no Juneteenth theme, and it was not a “spoof” of Juneteenth. In fact, the party was held in July, weeks after the celebration of Juneteenth.
  • As McMurray knew, the party had no displays of “misogyny.”
  • Defendant McMurray made the false statement of fact that the party had large Juneteenth signs on the lawn.
  • The party did not feature large Juneteenth flags on the lawn, nor did it mock Juneteenth. The gathering at Plaintiff’s home had no signs mocking Juneteenth.
  • Defendant McMurray has continued to make false and malicious statements about the July 7, 2022 gathering; and these false statements continue to the present day.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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