Firefighter sues Virginia county over termination after criticizing vandalism of Confederate monument

Written by on January 22, 2021


By Michael Gryboski, christian Post Reporter Follow

The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Photo taken Monday, July 13, 2020. | The christian Post

A firefighter has filed a lawsuit against a Virginia county, accusing it of unlawful dismissal after he was terminated following a Facebook post condemning the vandalism of a monument.

Jon Reinmuth filed suit against the County of Henrico Board of Supervisors on Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division.

According to the complaint, Reinmuth, an 18-year firefighter for the county, was fired last June after criticizing a Facebook post by Henrico County Public Schools showing two young women dancing around the base of the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond that was defaced with graffiti.

The lawsuit states that some of the graffiti “advocated for racial justice,” but other messages were vulgar, such as “‘F— Cops,’ ‘F— Pigs,’ and ‘Cops Are Murderers.’ Other graffiti was directed at politicians, such as ‘F—Trump.'” 

In response to an online public debate that ensued about the “appropriateness or inappropriateness of the school system’s decision to post this photograph” Reinmuth commented: “‘Disgraceful’ and added, ‘Will they be posing with their new TVs as well?'” the suit adds. 

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“Plaintiff interpreted the photograph as inappropriate because, due to the condition of the monument and the dancers’ celebratory position on it, the photograph appeared to advocate for illegal activity associated with the riots,” read the complaint.

“Plaintiff made the comments while off-duty … Plaintiff did not use any facilities or property of the County in preparing or posting his comments … Plaintiff did not make the comments pursuant to any of his official duties.”

In its “Prayer for Relief,” the complaint demands that the county rehire Reinmuth and award him with “lost wages and compensatory damages in amounts to be shown at trial for back pay, front pay, the value of all employee benefits lost as a result of his termination from employment with County of Henrico, and for the pain, suffering, emotional distress, and other damages caused by the Defendants’ actions, and for punitive damages to the extent allowed by law.”

A store in Richmond, Virginia boarded up and spray-painted in preparation for protests against police brutality and racism. The owners left water for demonstrators to take. Other nearby stores had bottled water instead. Photo taken June 1, 2020. | The christian Post

John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, which is representing Reinmuth, said in a statement released Thursday that the firefighter’s post was protected by the First Amendment.

“Tolerance cuts both ways. It isn’t always an easy pill to swallow, but that’s the way free speech is supposed to work, especially when it comes to tolerating speech that we may disagree with,” stated Whitehead.

“Remember, the First Amendment is a steam valve … Silencing unpopular viewpoints by shouting them down, censoring them, or criminalizing them is like removing the steam valve. Without it, frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile.”

The christian Post reached out to Henrico County for comment on this story and received an emailed statement explaining that the “Henrico County Attorney’s Office is reviewing the lawsuit and will respond in court at the appropriate time.” 

Following the May 25 death of George Floyd, who was handcuffed and restrained by three officers who had their knees on his torso and neck as he died, several demonstrations, both peaceful and violent, broke out in cities across the United States.

Rioters set fire to businesses, causing billions of dollars in damage and leaving numerous people unemployed. Over 20 people were killed across the country amid the violence. During riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in response to a separate incident involving police, an apartment building was set on fire, leaving 30 people homeless. 

In Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy, vandals attacked many of the statues dedicated to Confederate soldiers and commanders, including General Robert E. Lee.

Richmond-area vandals also went after monuments dedicated to other figures, including explorer Christopher Columbus and notable African American tennis player Arthur Ashe.

In response to the protests, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney issued an emergency order to remove most of the Confederate statues, with his actions being challenged in the courts.

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