When State Fire Training Academy property was found defaced, some recruits may have found it humorous to suggest that Al Mayo, the only black recruit, was responsible. But according to a state investigation, it may have helped create a perception that got him pulled from the class.
A recently-completed investigation into the dismissal of the New London firefighter by Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Reuben Bradford’s office found that Mayo was pulled from the training academy by the department based on unlikely claims from a recruit coordinator.
Meanwhile, another recruit who was white was caught cheating on an exam but was allowed to retake the test and graduate.
Mayo was dismissed two days before he was expected to be hired as a full-time New London firefighter.
According to the investigation by Bradford’s chief of staff Steven Spellman, Mayo had a tough time at the school. He was the only recruit to have his boots filled with water on the first day. He was written up in an expedited manner for minor offenses like rolling his eyes and sighing heavily, Spellman said.
Mayo was blamed for engraving his class number in wet cement on the property with no evidence to suggest he did it. Spellman felt the claim was dubious.
“[Based on the water incident] it seems to this writer highly unlikely that he would have the pride in ‘class of 48’ that would lead him to wish to memorialize his class in cement. I don’t think he did it,” he wrote. “No one knows, and yet official communications went forth from this agency to his potential employer stating that it was highly probable that he did do it and then attacking his honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity for not confessing.”
Spellman said it was suggested during interviews that some of the recruits thought it was amusing to joke that the only black recruit must have been responsible for defacing public property.
“This in turn may have helped create an actual perception and atmosphere in which the finger of blame pointed at the only black recruit, Al Mayo,” he wrote.
The investigation that led to the report was set in motion at the request of New London Rep. Ernest Hewett.
At a Hartford press conference Tuesday, Hewett and Connecticut NAACP Scot X. Esdaile called on city officials to reinstate Mayo, who despite not graduating, competed all the necessary exams and maintained high marks.
Hewett said it was clear there was a problem at the academy. If every student had their boots filled with water on the first day it wouldn’t have been an issue, he said.
“But if the only boots that had water in them belonged to the only African American in a class of 48, that’s when it becomes a problem,” he said.
Hewett said the staff coordinator who repeatedly contacted the New London department about Mayo’s shortcomings, William DeFord, should resign. He was the same coordinator who caught the white recruit cheating on a test, Hewett said.
In the cheating case, DeFord defended the white recruit and the sponsoring fire chief decided to let him graduate with his class, he said.
“Mr. Mayo did not have that luxury. Instead he was ostracized with lies coming out of the academy and not once did the New London chief set foot in the academy to talk to his own recruit to hear his side of the story,” he said.
At an unrelated Tuesday press conference, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he read the letter about the investigation Bradford sent to the New London Mayor Daryl Finizio.
“What the letter appears to be saying is that the record doesn’t demonstrate that this individual should have been treated this way. That, on the record, he appears to be eligible for employment, and in all probability communications took place that shouldn’t have taken place,” he said.
In the letter, Bradford urges New London officials to revisit the decision not to hire Mayo.
“I realize it is not possible to unring the bell of Mr. Deford’s email and the chain of events that followed,” he wrote. “. . . I am more inclined to agree with my chief of staff’s belief that Mr. Mayo was unlikely to memorialize in cement any tribute to a training class in which his experience from day one was difficult at best.”
However, Hewett said the problem was bigger than the case of Al Mayo.
“Mayo is my kid. Mayo is your kid. I have a 21-year-old right now that wants to be a state police officer. He’s in the process of taking that test. What about him having to go into the classroom and having to deal with this same bull that this guy had to deal with? I don’t want that,” Hewett said.
For his part, Mayo, who attended the press conference, said he just wants the job he worked hard to earn.