Firefighters speak on alleged hate crimes

July 31, 2009 9:07:24 PM PDT
Two female firefighters who found hateful messages written on the wall of their fire station are speaking out. They say they're scared and they want answers. Firefighters press conference raw video: Part 1 | Part 2
Mayor White press conference raw video: Part 1

A lot of raw emotions were on display Wednesday evening. Both of the firefighters have more than eight years experience with the department. They said they are living in fear and begging for some action.

"I worked too hard to get where I am and they dragged me all the way back down," said Houston Firefighter Paula Keys.

Just one day after discovering racist and sexist remarks drawn on the wall of Station 54, the two firefighters at the center of this scandal are breaking their silence.

"It's demented. Somebody is sick," said Houston Firefighter Jane Draycott.

Keys and Draycott claim the harassment has been going on for months; acts so low, they say, as defacing photographs of their family, even a deceased daughter.

"They wrote 'dead' on her face and they wrote 'die' on my face," said Draycott.

The women's attorney told us about the harassment he claims they endured during the months leading up to Tuesday's incident.

Attorney Joseph Amad said, "Ranging from turning the cold water off in the shower so they got scalded, from having firecrackers to go off when they opened the bathroom stall to taking the mattresses away from their beds."

Amad says they filed a formal complaint last week. When the women returned to work Tuesday, they found disparaging remarks on written on their walls and on their family photos in the lockers.

"They are obviously sick," Amad said. "The kind of person who would do something like that is not the kind of person that should be a firefighter but, frankly, needs psychiatric help."

All of this comes as HFD faces another blow. On Wednesday morning, someone is believed to have hacked into the department's tactical radio system and broadcasted a racist statement. The message of hate was sent across the HFD airwaves. The chief says it did not come from someone in the fire department.

That incident followed a series of other questionable acts to which the HPD Chief said he took quite personal.

"Quite frankly, I'm mad. I'm mad as hell," said Chief Phil Boriskie.

Critics of the Chief say it's his inaction that has led to the problems. Some are even calling on the mayor to reexamine the chief's performance.

"We need some leadership -- firm, strong leadership right now. And we're not getting it," said Otis Jordan of the Houston Black Firefighters Association.

For Keys and Draycott, they stopped short of calling for the chief's job, but they did stand firm that something must be done.

"I'm risking my life to save other lives and I have to worry about my co-workers writing 'die' on the walls and on my child's photo," said Keys.

Both of those firefighters say they want swift action and prosecution. Keys, who has only been at Station 54 for three months, says she is so terrified that she is requesting a transfer.

But not everyone is against the chief on this issue. The President of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association, Jeffrey Caynon, said, "From a personal perspective, as a person of color, I also believe Chief Boriskie has been treated despicably by opportunist activists whose provocations offer nothing in the way of solutions."

As for the graffiti incident, it is being investigated by the Houston Police Department. The radio system hacking is being investigated by the FCC.

Houston city council member Jolanda Jones said, "I'm here to say I've spoken with both of those women, I'm not interfering with any investigations. Those women are traumatized. They were victimized."

Jones is so outraged that she sent a letter to Mayor Bill White saying she has "no confidence" in an internal investigation, and would "formally request a Justice Department investigation" into the incident.

Houston Mayor Bill White issued a statement saying, "Any form of racial or gender discrimination demeaning one group of people is unacceptable. We won't tolerate it in the fire department or anywhere else within the city. Before we judge and generalize about it, we need to get the facts and we will get to the bottom of it. I have confidence in the professionalism of the office of inspector general to do that."

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