The former chief of the Pensacola Fire Department, fired earlier this year, filed suit in federal court Wednesday, alleging violations of his civil rights by Mayor Ashton Hayward and other city officials.
Matt Schmitt, a 36-year veteran of the department and its chief since 2010, was fired by Hayward in May along with deputy chief Joe Glover after a highly publicized three-month City Hall investigation into the department’s management practices. In announcing the chiefs’ terminations, Hayward cited his “loss of confidence in their ability to lead the department.”
The investigation — conducted by Pensacola attorney Russell VanSickle at a cost to taxpayers of more that $113,000 — found that Schmitt had “repeatedly violated city policy” in his handling of donations to the department. The 132-page report compiled by VanSickle also cited concerns about Schmitt’s hiring practices as chief as well as internal disputes both within the fire department and between Schmitt and Glover and City Hall.
Schmitt’s lawsuit — which also names City Administrator Eric Olson and Human Resources chief Ed Sisson — argues that the investigation and his termination were done in retaliation for Schmitt’s efforts to defend Glover, who is black, from allegedly racially-motivated harassment from Sisson, who is white. Schmitt’s suit seeks both back pay as well as reinstatement or compensation for lost future pay, arguing that the city’s actions have caused him “severe emotional distress, embarrassment, and humiliation.”
Glover, along with three other African-American firefighters, previously sued the city in 2005 over racial discrimination allegations. That suit was decided in favor of the city, a ruling which was upheld on appeal.
Hayward appointed David Allen, who previously served as the city’s fire marshal, to replace Schmitt. Allen’s appointment as fire chief was confirmed by the city council in June.
Asked for comment Thursday, city spokesman Vernon Stewart said the city had not yet been served with the lawsuit.