A Black veteran firefighter from upstate New York is seeking $4 million in damages after claiming his captain took him to a private party with a racist theme mocking Juneteenth–a federal holiday in the US commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.
Last week, Jones filed a notice of claim after the RFD failed to take action in response to his internal complaint about being taken to the faux Juneteenth party.
According to the claim, Captain Jeffrey Krywy took Jones and two other junior firefighters–including Jones–to a 9,800-square-foot mansion located in “one of the city’s most affluent communities" while on duty.
Jones recalled feeling “immediately uneasy” after walking up to the house and seeing a cutout of former Republican President Donald Trump and large Juneteenth flags with "buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken prominently displayed" around them.
Attendees were reportedly eating fried chicken, drinking cognac, and heckling a woman impersonating Democratic county legislator Rachel Barnhart in a “mocking but sexual” way.
There were allegedly gift bags containing a small bottle of cognac and a Juneteenth commemorative cup.
Jones also spotted photos of Democratic politicians–including City Councilman Mitch Gruber and members of the Rochester Police Accountability Board–on stakes.
At the time, a fellow firefighter allegedly told Jones, “we shouldn’t be here, this is bullsh*t.”
Jones said the activities he witnessed at the private event reminded him of the 2017 movie Get Out–a psychological horror film written and directed by Jordan Peele that includes themes of slavery, race, and racism.
Jones said he saw someone he recognized as a “senior member” of the Rochester Police Department.
The media outlet noted that attending such an explicitly racist event as described in the complaint is a violation of RPD and RFD ethical standards.
Speaking at a press conference in front of City Hall on Thursday, Jones said:
"It cut me very deeply; I'm sorry I even have to be here today."
"But as terribly as I'm feeling, I'm glad it happened to me and not someone who could be easily intimidated."
Barnhart addressed the sexualized depiction of her and other lawmakers at the event, suggesting they encouraged "incivility and violence."
She said at the press conference:
"When you put on a uniform you're supposed to uphold basic values of decency. There should be consequences for not doing so."
Rochester Fire Chief Felipe Hernandez asserted that Jones’ claims were “unacceptable and an affront to everyone who works with the [RFD] and in City Hall.”
Hernandez added the internal investigation was finished and Krywy remained suspended "until the action has been received and accepted."
The notice of claim listed owners Nicholas Nicosia–a prominent local dentist–and his wife, Mary Znidarsicas, as hosts for the offensive event.
They issued a statement expressing how they "strongly disagree" with how they were being depicted in the media.
“My wife Mary and I were surprised and disappointed about the allegations that have been made against us, and by the responses being posted on social media," wrote Nicosia.
"We strongly disagree with how we are being characterized and are hopeful that the community will hold its judgment while we seek to clear our names."
"Highland Hospital has asked me to step down from its Board of Directors, and I have agreed to do so, so that I can focus my efforts on restoring our reputations.”