BOYNTON BEACH, Fla – Lawyers and city commissioners will meet next week to discuss a lawsuit brought by Boynton Beach’s first black female firefighter after her image was depicted in white on a public mural.
Latosha Clemons, who rose through the ranks to become the first deputy chief of the black firefighters in Boynton, is seeking more than $ 100,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit filed in April.
Lawyers will meet behind closed doors with commissioners on Tuesday to seek guidance in the case. The possibilities range from a settlement with Clemons to pursuing the case in court. Clemons’ attorneys have requested a jury trial.
A photograph of three women – Clemons and two white female firefighters – served as the model for the mural, which when completed depicts the three women as white. The city’s 2019 art commission project to honor firefighters also included a portrayal of Glenn Joseph, the city’s former fire chief, who is also black, and whose image was also portrayed as the one of a white man.
Embarrassed officials removed the mural a day after it was unveiled at Fire Station No.1 near City Hall on June 3, 2020.
The city also retaliated by firing Debby Coles-Dobay, the director of public arts, and removing Matthew Petty from his post as fire chief. Cole-Dobay and Petty are white.
Clemons worked for the city for 26 years before retiring in 2020.
The whitewashing of his likeness on the mural “completely disrespected all that Clemons … had accomplished,” according to the lawsuit, and “also demonstrated a lack of respect for the large black population” of Boynton Beach.
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Petty pressured Coles-Dobay to revise the plan the mural was based on and the city was “well aware of the change,” the lawsuit says.
Boynton Beach officials wanted Clemons to be portrayed in white, “a race that the city likely thought best match the image it was trying to project,” according to court documents.
Boynton City attorneys James Cherof and Gal Betesh say in court that “the employees responsible for altering the mural … acted outside of their job and without the knowledge of the city or without his consent “.
Arthur Schofield, Clemons’ attorney based in West Palm Beach, declined to comment on the lawsuit this week as the case is ongoing.
City manager Lori LaVerriere did not respond to a request for comment. LaVerriere previously said she was not aware of the changes to the mural.
“I am hurt. I am disappointed. I am outraged,” Clemons told the Palm Beach Post in June 2020. “This has been my heart and soul and my life force to serve in the community where I grew up… this is beyond disrespect and I basically want to know why it happened. “
Clemons, 48, was born in Boynton Beach and began working for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department after graduating from Santaluces High School. She was encouraged to enroll in the Fire Academy by former Boynton Fire Chief Floyd Jordan, according to court documents, and was hired after graduating from the academy by the fire department of the city on June 20, 1996.
Clemons rose through the ranks to become the Deputy Fire Chief, a position she held for three years before retiring in 2020.
Fallout for Clemons, according to the lawsuit, included damage to her personal and professional reputation, loss of income and “subjected her to ridicule, contempt, disgrace and / or humiliation …”
The next hearing date indicated in the case is a mediation session on November 30.