The first Black assistant deputy fire chief of Boynton Beach, Florida, Latosha Clemons, has filed a lawsuit against the city claiming “defamation and negligence” after she was inaccurately portrayed on a public mural aimed at honoring the city’s firefighters and rescue workers. Now a meeting is set to take place to address her suit.
Clemons filed the suit back in April after she was portrayed as a white woman on the massive artwork. The Daily Beast reported one of the main photos used in the mural featured three female Boynton Beach firefighters.
The end result should’ve shown two white women and Clemons, however, the suit claims the picture painted the deputy chief “as a white member of the city fire department.”
Yet that wasn’t the mural’s only blunder. Former Boynton Fire Chief Glenn Joseph, who is also Black, was drawn to look white as well.
The mural — which had been in development since 2019 — was unveiled in June of last year at the city’s new Fire Station #1 near City Hall, but following the backlash it was swiftly taken down the next day and replaced last November with an accurate representation of Clemons.
Clemons made history in 1996 when she became the first Black female firefighter for the South Florida city.
However, the lawsuit stated that, “Being depicted as white was not only a false presentation of Clemons, it was also a depiction which completely disrespected all that Clemons, the first female Black firefighter for the City, had accomplished, her determination, focus and hard work.”
The suit further stated that “the alteration of the likeness of Clemons not only presented her in a false light, it also demonstrated disrespect for the large Black population of the city.”
The former city employee, who is now the fire chief of the Atlanta suburb of Forest Park, is now seeking more than $100,000 in damages.
A second amended complaint was failed just last month and said the case was being brought on behalf of the former firefighter “to redress the defamatory statement [the City of Boynton Beach] made regarding her race and/or its negligence in failing to properly oversee an approved use of the likeness of Clemons.”
The woman’s attorneys are also looking for a trial by jury for the second complaint.
Clemons accused City Manager Lori LaVerriere of knowing of the changes and claims she did nothing to stop it — an accusation LaVerriere strongly denies.
Meanwhile, Boynton city attorneys James Cherof and Gal Betesh stated in documents that the “employee(s) responsible for altering the mural … acted outside the scope of their employment and without the city’s knowledge or consent.”
In an email sent to the Palm Beach Post last year, Debby Coles-Dobay, Boynton Beach’s public arts manager echoled a similar statement to that of Clemons, telling the outlet that she “was pressured to make this artwork change by the Fire Chief and his staff, as the City well knows.”
LaVerriere ultimately fired Coles-Dobay and demoted then-Fire Chief Matthew Petty, who later resigned. LaVerriere told CNN that a closed-door meeting will be held to address the matter and establish further steps.
To read more stories like this, visit AtlantaBlackStar.com