© 2023 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Report Says Firing Of Arson Investigator Crystal Eschert OK, But...


The City of Charlotte has released an independent review of its dismissal of a fire investigator last year.  The city says it proves the fire department was justified in firing Crystal Eschert for a Facebook post they deemed racially insensitive. But the report is not that clear cut and it raises many questions about a culture of retaliation and fear in the fire department’s ranks.

The Facebook post in question reads in part:

“White guy shot by police yesterday near Ferguson….where’s Obama? Where’s Holder? Where’s Al Sharpton…”

and continues,

”So tired of hearing it’s a racial thing. If you are a thug and worthless to society it’s not race – you’re just a waste no matter what religion, race or sex you are.”

Crystal Eschert admits it’s her post. And the city deemed it insensitive, and fired her after an email from someone alerted the fire department to its existence. Eschert believes someone from the fire department sent that email in order to get her fired. In retaliation, she claims, for complaining about the quality of renovations being done on a fire department building in Charlotte. Today, Carlee quoted the findings of a report conducted by an outside attorney, "We did not find direct evidence of retaliation to Ms. Eschert’s termination.” Adding, “There is no document, no witness testimony that directly proves retaliation or targeting."

The report does contain those two sentences, but there’s a lot more. The report states that it may take a subpoena to determine just who wrote that email complaining of the post. And adds:

“The circumstances are such that we, too, believe that it is possible Ms. Eschert was the subject of retaliatory termination.”

And the report shows fear of retaliation in the fire department is widespread. Again Ron Carlee quoting the report, "There are significant issues of distrust within the fire department and an atmosphere that is widely believed to include targeting and unfair discipline," for those who crossed senior management in the fire department.

And the report shows the firing of Ms. Eschert was flawed. It points out every person who would normally be involved in hearing an appeal against termination took part in at least one of two meetings where the “correct” outcome was discussed. Which calls into question the fairness of the process:

"It would be difficult to believe, that decision makers were able to bring complete independence to their later review of that discipline."

The report also shows that other members of the fire department made inflammatory Facebook posts and received lesser punishments. This includes a deputy fire chief who made a post about Bruce Jenner. That, too, was deemed insensitive. He was placed on administrative leave, then retired.

Charlotte Fire Chief Jon Hannan had this to say about the report, "The findings of distrust and fear of intimidation do not reflect my vision for the Charlotte Fire Department." Hannan praised the rank and file in the fire department then added, "I take this very seriously and will review the report carefully."

But Hannan, like Carlee, took no questions. And offered no plans for that change. In fact, the city is taking the unusual step of saying all questions from reporters must be submitted in writing, in advance, before the city decides when to respond.

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.