Black firefighter sues city over mural that depicted her as white

Florida city’s first ever black female firefighter sues city for $100,000 over mural that depicted her as white

  • Latosha Clemons, Boynton Beach’s first black female firefighter, alleged the city was negligent and defamed her when it pictured her as white in the mural
  • The mural, which was unveiled last year to celebrated the city’s fire department, also pictured another black firefighter as white
  • Clemons said she suffered ridicule, disgrace and humiliation over the incident
  • The city fired its public arts manager and fixed the mural after the unveiling 
  • The fired arts manager claimed the city knew about the errors beforehand 

Boynton Beach, Florida’s first-ever black female firefighter has filed a $100,000 lawsuit against the city for defamation and negligence after it unveiled a mural last year that depicted her as a white woman. 

Latosha Clemons, who joined the Boynton Beach and Fire Rescue Department in 1996 and also became its first black deputy chief 20 year later, alleged she suffered mental anguish after seeing the mural last summer, which was meant to celebrate her and her department. 

‘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,’ the lawsuit states. 

It added that Clemons experienced ‘mental and emotional harm, pain and suffering and damage to personal and professional reputation, as well as subjected her to ridicule, contempt, disgrace and/or humiliation both in the City Administration and in the community at large.’ 

The original mural at Boynton Beach and Fire Rescue’s new fire station depicted Latosha Celmons, right, as a white woman

The mural was based off this photo graph from the fire department. Latosha Clemons was the department’s first black female fire fighter

Clemons, who went on to become the city’s first black deputy chief, has filed a $100,000 lawsuit against the city over the mural controversy 

The mural was first commissioned in 2019 and unveiled on June 3, 2020 at the city’s new fire station, The Daily Beast reports.  

Not only did it portray Clemons as white, it also depicted former Boynton Fire Chief Glenn Joseph, a black man, as white, too. 

Facing public outrage, the mural was removed the following day, and Boynton Beach City Manager Lori LaVerriere fired the city’s public arts manager, Debby Coles-Dobay. 

‘I sincerely apologize this occurred and will take every measure necessary to ensure this never happens again,’ LaVerriere said at the time. 

In an email to the Palm Beach Post last year, Coles-Dobay claimed she was pressured to make the mural the way it was by the city and Fire Chief’s Office. 

Boynton Beach City Manager Lori LaVerriere fired City Public Arts Manager Debby Coles-Dobay after the mural incident. Coles-Dobay alleges that the city knew about the errors beforehand and pushed her office to complete the mural

An altered version of the mural was eventually set up to correct the previous errors

The mural was eventually altered to correctly depict Clemons and Joseph.  

The city said officials were meeting with attorney’s on how to move forward with the lawsuit. 

Clemons’ attorney, Arthur Schofield, declined to comment, citing active litigation. 

During an interview with the Palm Beach Post last year, Clemons demanded answers for how the mural came to be. 

‘I’m hurt. I’m disappointed. I’m outraged,’ Clemons said, adding that the mural caused her ‘sleepless nights.’ ‘It’s been my heart and soul and my lifeblood to serve in the community where I grew up… this is beyond disrespect and I basically want to know why it happened.’

Clemons and city officials are scheduled to meet with a mediator on November 30. 

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