Nashville Fire Department’s chief issued a 16-day suspension to a four-year veteran firefighter for violating department policy over a contentious tweet about the city’s license plate reader pilot program.
Firefighter Josh Lipscomb, who performs as a comedian under the name Josh Black, called some Metro Nashville council members “white supremacists” in a Feb. 3 tweet for approving the program some regard as unwarranted government surveillance.
“I hate feeding into the illusion that America’s government and existence is legitimate, so I’m no fan of voting. But the majority of Nashville City Council is white supremacists. I know it’s boring, but millennials have to start caring about local elections,” Lipscomb tweeted under the username @SirJoshuaBlack.
Lipscomb did not identify himself as a fire department or city employee in the tweet.
An NFD panel concluded that Lipscomb had violated department policy and should be suspended for 16 days. Records show Lipscomb will have to take the suspension without pay because he has no further time off accrued so far this year.
On Feb. 28, nearly a dozen Metro Council members voiced their support of Lipscomb in a letter to the chief.
“We are writing to state our support for Joshua Lipscomb’s appeal of disciplinary action levied against him,” 11 council members wrote. “We respectfully request you affirm Mr. Lipscomb’s right to share his opinions.”
Related:Council members voice support for Nashville firefighter who called most of the board white supremacists
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Chief William Swann approved the panel’s recommendation, according to an email provided by Lipscomb Friday. The suspension will begin on his next scheduled shift Monday.
“Having integrity and maintaining public confidence are some of the basic principles of being a public servant and a firefighter with this department,” Swann’s letter, provided by fire department personnel, says. “As an employee, your recent comments on social media were a poor reflection on the Nashville Fire Department and the Metropolitan Government in ways that cause disruption to the department and undermine its mission.”
The letter noted that any future disciplinary actions taken against Lipscomb could result in termination.
Lipscomb has the option to take the suspension days consecutively or spread them out over time.
Lipscomb said he planned to appeal the chief’s decision. Kendra Loney, an NFD spokesperson, said he has 15 days to do so.
Lipscomb declined to comment on the suspension, passing any questions to his attorney, Tricia Herzfeld.
“You do not surrender your free speech rights just because you have a government job,” Herzfeld said by text message. “We are disappointed in the Fire Department’s decision, and we intend to challenge it in short order.”
In a tweet, Lipscomb encouraged his followers to “keep fighting injustice.”
“But thank you to city council members, activists, friends and everyone in this city for speaking out against this bigotry,” he wrote.
Lipscomb, 30, commented on social media after council members narrowly approved on Feb. 1 a six-month license plate reader pilot after more than a year of intense deliberation.
The bill’s proponents heralded license plate readers, often known as LPRs, as a powerful policing tool that could help police solve crimes, potentially locate missing people or act as a crime deterrent. The ordinance saw support from Mayor John Cooper’s office, the Metro Nashville Police Department and the Nashville Department of Transportation.
More than a dozen community groups including the NAACP, Community Oversight Board, Conexion Americas and Open Table Nashville opposed the pilot program.
Lipscomb wrote that license plate readers allow immigrant surveillance, assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement and promote “aggressive surveillance of Black communities.”
Timeline of sanctions against Lipscomb
February 3: Lipscomb tweeted about council members, calling them white supremacists. Nashville fire officials were notified of the tweet.
February 22: Nashville fire officials sent Lipscomb a letter detailing disciplinary charges against him.
March 10: Lipscomb appears before a disciplinary panel regarding the charges against him. Panel recommends 16-day suspension for Lipscomb.
March 18: Nashville Fire Department Chief William Swann issues his decision, agreeing to the 16-day suspension. Lipscomb receives the suspension letter.
Natalie Neysa Alund is based in Nashville at The Tennessean and covers breaking news across the South for the USA TODAY Network. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.