Government employees are usually held to a higher standard. However, does a personal Facebook account and posting made on that account be the subject of scrutiny? This is what is happening to Hialeah Firefighter Eric Johnson, who is currently under investigation for comments, pictures and posts made on his personal Facebook page. Johnson is not staying quiet and is speaking out about what he believes is “humorous”.
Johnson, a ten year veteran Hialeah firefighter, who is married to a Cuban, posted on Facebook a picture of a man riding a scooter with a goat and the caption “Only in Hialeah. LOL”. Johnson says: "I don't really necessarily see why people would be offended. It's a picture. It's in good humor. You have the option of coming on my page and looking at it or not." Some are now questioning if Johnson may be racist.
There was another posting where Johnson stated how he communicates with the residents of Hialeah. "I have a system. Just add an 'o' to any English word and bam! It works. For example, how ya doin 'o.' You wanna go to the hospital 'o.' I just learned that you can't do that when you say is this your home though. Ha Ha.” Johnson's reply to this comment: "How you doing-o? You have some chest pain-o? You want to go to the hospital-o? It is what it is. It works," said Johnson.
There were posts about Medicare as well: "Ha Ha Ha... Jew forgot dat I hab da Medicare... Jew must talk me."
Johnson’s explanation: "This is a typical response we get in the city from a lot of people who have government benefits," he said. "It's almost like you owe them, you are there at their beck and call, at their service, and mind you, as a public servant, I am, I really am."
Johnson is holding his ground. He believes that any discipline would be unwarranted and he has a right to voice his opinion and beliefs. "These aren't stereotypes, this is reality. If anyone is stereotyped, it's me in Hialeah," he said. "I'm a gringo in the middle of Hialeah!"
Despite the investigation, Johnson assures the residents of the City of Hialeah that he treats everyone equally while on the job. "Because that's the essence of public service. Treat 'em all like your mom," Johnson says.
To further hinder the firefighter reputation, pictures were taken from his Facebook page, printed and were anonymously mailed to Carlos Hernandez, Mayor of the City of Hialeah. “From the mayor to the last city employee, it is our duty to not embarrass our institution,” Hernández said. “I believe these photos of little children and alcohol exposes the poor judgment of a public employee by posting them on a place like Facebook.”
One photograph shows three children smiling, while holding bottles of alcohol from behind a table full of liquor and an ice bucket. Two of those children were Johnson's. The bottles were not open and does not show or suggest that the minors were drinking, but rather posing for the camera, jokingly. The second picture shows one of Johns children resting his head on a beer box with his eyes closed.
The photographs were taken at a Hawaiian luau party hosted by his family in Orlando at the end of April. “Not a single drop of liquor was given to the children at any moment. That would be inappropriate,” said Johnson. “The fact that there is alcohol at a family party with children does not mean that a crime has been committed.”
Because of this anonymous report, the firefighter is now under administrative investigation to avoid any accusation of negligence from the Department of Children and Families.
The firefighter is also the vice-president of the Hialeah Association of Firefighters. President of the Hialeah firefighters’ union, Mario Pico, said he trusts the investigation will show that Johnson did nothing illegal.