Lyons Fire Chief Resigns After Facebook Jab At Protestors Sparks Backlash
Lyons Fire Chief JJ Hoffman resigned Tuesday over a Facebook comment he made at the end of May about people protesting the death of George Floyd.
The NAACP had begun an investigation into the matter.
Hoffman’s comment was in response to a different Facebook post that said: “I think Denver police should have Denver fire department give it a 2 and ½ inch line and their monitor and wash all this human trash into the gutter.”
Hoffman responded: “ha ha if I was down there I definitely would open up our high pressure bumper turret and have some fun.”
Hoffman initially apologized on Facebook.
“All I can say is sorry if I offended you. I am not trying to belittle history. I am upset that the protesting in Denver turned into riots. I get that people are angry about the death of this man in Minneapolis. I am angry as well. I do not at all agree with it and something needs to be done,” Hoffman wrote.
The fire chief said he did not post his original comment on an open public forum.
“I posted a very long thread on my own personal page and another private page about the protests in Denver last night that obviously one of my so-called “friends” on Facebook decided to screenshot and send out to the masses to try and smear me without the rest of the story,” Hoffman continued.
His comments created an immediate backlash.
On May 31, Kerry Matre, the president of the Lyons Fire Fund, wrote a resignation letter that she said was a result of his post.
“I feel the comment by JJ Hoffman regarding the usage of the fire department’s high-pressure bumper turret against people for fun does not serve the best interest of the community, especially given his position of authority in the community, even if made in jest,” Matre wrote in her resignation letter.
Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Singer of Longmont, who represents Lyons, said a constituent alerted him to the Facebook posts, which he called “racist.” Singer said Hoffman’s apology was not enough, and that he had already lost credibility and the public’s trust. The representative called for swift disciplinary action and wrote a letter to the Colorado State Fire Chiefs and asked the NAACP to investigate.
“The ‘human trash?’” Singer wrote in a letter. “The thousands of people in Denver, myself included, who have been protesting the death of George Floyd. Protesting the deaths of literally countless black men and women at the hands of law enforcement. Protesting the racial inequity that has haunted our country since before its inception. Protesters — that’s who this ‘human trash.’”
On June 1, Hoffman issued a formal apology and released an official statement and said his “thoughtless remark” reflected poorly on the district and himself.
He said he was frustrated that peaceful protests in Denver turned destructive at times, and small businesses sustained damage, which he felt overshadowed what protesters were trying to accomplish.
“While my remark was made in jest, and was meant to refer to the rioters whose actions followed the peaceful daytime protests, it was brought to my attention by several community members that my remark was insensitive, particularly given the historical context of the use of water cannons to break up civil rights demonstrations,” Hoffman wrote. “Those community members are right, and I acknowledge that my remark was thoughtless and inappropriate. For this, I sincerely apologize.”
The Lyons Fire Protection District Board of Directors said in a statement they believed Hoffman’s apology was sincere, and that while he had made a mistake, they felt confident no similar conduct would arise in the future. They issued a formal reprimand for Hoffmann.
A week later on June 8, the board of directors said Hoffman had decided to resign in response to his social media remarks.
“Chief Hoffman expressed to us that he felt it was in the best interest of the Lyons Fire Protection District for him to resign. The board would like to thank Chief Hoffman for his service to the Lyons Protection District and the Lyons community,” they wrote.
Singer said Lyons is very divided about the resignation. Some people feel it was the right decision and praised Singer for pushing the issue forward, while others say it was a rush to judgment.
The search for a new fire chief will begin immediately. The president of the NAACP Boulder County Branch Annett James said she would be looking closely at the new hire.
“We refuse to live in communities — no matter how remote and isolated — where such attitudes are allowed, encouraged and excused,” James said.
Hoffman’s perceptions hurt everyone, she added.
Rosemary Lytle, president of NAACP Colorado, Wyoming, Montana State Conference, also denounced Hoffman’s comments.
“A person with such cavalier disregard to the facts of history — a history of fire hoses and police dogs used to deter righteous, youthful protesters in the '60s civil rights movement — does not deserve to serve in a public position, especially not in these critical moments where the fight for civil rights and social justice continues, but some of the same old abusive police tactics are still being misused,” Lytle said.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story included a screenshot of the Facebook comment from JJ Hoffman that included a photo posted by another user on the social media service. The photo was not posted by Hoffman, so the image has been cropped to exclude it.
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