A Tampa firefighter decried racism. Now, he’s been fired for forgery.

TAMPA — Last June, Andrew Dixon said he opened the door of his locker at his Tampa Fire Rescue station and found a piece of paper displaying his photo. Across his forehead, in red typeface, a word had been added: Monkey.

The incident came a few months after Dixon, who is Black, found a life-sized monkey figurine hanging from the rafters of the same firehouse, one of the city’s busiest.

The Tampa Police Department opened an investigation as both incidents drew a wave of widespread media coverage last summer. That investigation closed without finding much beyond rumor.

On Monday, months later, the city fired Dixon for an unrelated offense, according to records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

Dixon forged the signature of the person assigned with recording his hospital attendance, a requirement of his paramedic training, records show. The Tampa fire department found he also completed evaluations for two dates when he had not been at the hospital, rating himself as “excellent.”

“Your behavior is totally unacceptable,” read his disciplinary notice from the city.

Dixon, who joined the fire department in April 2021, declined to comment. But last year, when alleging racism in the city ranks, he told media outlets that he saw deeply rooted problems, describing the department as “a good ol’ boys club.”

Eighteen firefighters interviewed by Tampa police officers investigating those allegations reported “speculation and rumors” that Dixon may have put the photo in his locker, according to previously unreported police reports. Officers took fingerprints from the photo and forensically examined six computers from the station but found no leads before closing the case last summer with Dixon’s approval.

Dixon has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming discrimination based on race and relation.

Fire Chief Barbara Tripp wrote in an email that Dixon’s firing “was a decision based on the principles of accountability and professionalism.”

“It is important to distinguish that the actions leading to Mr. Dixon’s termination are entirely separate from his allegations and are based solely on the facts surrounding his misconduct,” a city spokesperson wrote in an email.

A stunt and a photo

It was early last February, during Black History Month, when Dixon spotted the monkey hanging from the ceiling at Station 13, located just north of Busch Boulevard.

Those involved in hanging it said the incident was a way to honor Busch Gardens, the station’s neighbor. But according to police records, Dixon was in “disbelief” when he found the hanging monkey, and saw the stunt as racist, especially because of the timing. Dixon told police that Eric Floyd, another Black Tampa firefighter, was also upset and wanted to know who did it. Floyd told officers he wanted it down because “some people might think it’s offensive.”

Dixon, who grew up in Buffalo, New York, worked as an armed security officer before joining the fire department as part of the first hiring class of Tripp — Tampa’s first female fire chief and one of only about a dozen Black, female fire chiefs in the nation.

The walls of her office are adorned with awards and mementos. Among them, a large American flag made of wood, engraved with the names of that first class, including Dixon’s.

“I am happy to be a part of (Tampa Fire Rescue) and I look forward to many great years to come,” he wrote in his April performance evaluation.

Then, in June, Dixon told the Tampa Police Department that he went to grab his shirt from his locker when a piece of paper tumbled out, records show. He said he unfolded it, finding his image with the word monkey stamped across his forehead. He stared for a second and dropped the paper, he told investigators.

“What’s wrong?” asked a colleague named Matt Menzies, who later told police Dixon had tears in his eyes.

Dixon punched the locker and said, “They’re cowards.”

Later he reported the photo to police. After his wife posted the incidents on social media, they were splashed across local TV news stations.

In response, Tampa Fire Rescue released a statement condemning the alleged acts, as did the union president. Residents flocked to Old City Hall, calling on the city to do more to address the allegations.

More questions in probe

Tampa police interviewed 32 people about the photograph beginning late last June, records show.

Eighteen people said they heard rumors that Dixon put the photo in the locker himself.

Police interviewed firefighter Ethan Smith, for example, who thought “this because of the first incident with the monkey hanging in the bay and Dixon is mad it wasn’t handled differently by HR,” the report said.

Personnel Chief Robbie Northrop was asked who he thought placed the photo in the locker.

“Northrop asked if his answer would be seen by his administration,” according to police records. “Northrop stated he thinks Dixon put the photo in his locker himself.”

Police also interviewed Dixon multiple times and looked for evidence that could point to who printed the photo. The photo of Dixon was produced by a color printer. Firefighters were asked if the station had one. Several confirmed that there was only a black and white printer.

The police took fingerprints from the photo and found that they matched two people: Dixon and Menzies. Menzies was with Dixon when he found the photo in his locker and had handled it, the report said. Dixon told police that he and Menzies didn’t get along. Menzies said he knew that Dixon had a problem with him but wasn’t sure why.

On July 3, the police began to focus more on Dixon and his performance and attendance at his paramedic classes. After interviewing a witness and Hillsborough Community College records, police found evidence of “forged documents.” It’s not clear from police records if officers informed Dixon about the discovery at the time.

The investigation into the alleged racist incidents ended at the end of July, after Dixon said he was “satisfied” with the investigation ending and was “over it,” records show.

That July Dixon was contacted by the FBI, the police report said. He told Susana Mapu, special agent in the Tampa division, that the people he worked with were “trying to protect themselves from possible backlash.”

Dixon told officers that the FBI was first contacted by the NAACP.

Obtaining the records from Tampa Police Department took multiple requests by the Times over the course of months. When reached for comment, the fire union president Nick Stocco told the Times he had not been able to obtain a copy, despite three requests to the fire department.

On Tuesday, a Times reporter requested in person to inspect Tampa Fire Rescue’s records about its internal process that led to Dixon’s firing. The reporter was told that the records could not be reviewed in person and Northrop told an employee to call the police after the reporter asked for an explanation. The records were provided by the city’s communications director shortly after.

Four forged signatures

Tampa firefighters must attain a paramedic certification within three years of joining the department. This requires attending classes through Hillsborough Community College and spending time at a hospital.

Evaluated on their performance, firefighters are required to log attendance, signed off by an instructor.

Early last June, Dixon texted the instructor at Tampa General Hospital, explaining that his car had been stolen and that he had fractured his finger, records show.

“If I come in for like 2 hours, can you sign for me?” he texted the instructor.

“Yea, that’s fine,” she replied, adding that he didn’t have to worry about coming in and could “just put my name down for the day.”

Dixon went on to falsify his attendance twice more that month, also completing evaluations for each of those dates, rating himself as “excellent” and forging the rater’s signature, the city’s investigation found. The city reviewed footage and found no trace of Dixon at the hospital those days.

“During his interview he was evasive and untruthful,” according to disciplinary records. When asked if he had signed the records, he replied: “I didn’t sign it.”

On Monday, Dixon was terminated for four forged signatures. The disciplinary hearing was held inside the fire headquarters, the same building where his name is displayed on the wall of the chief’s office.