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Firefighter at center of ‘Juneteenth parody party’ files sweeping discrimination suit against city

 Rochester firefighter Jerrod Jones hugs his former high school English teacher, Jason Muhammad, on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at a news conference where Jones said he was forced while on duty to attend a party that mocked the Juneteenth holiday.
Max Schulte
Rochester firefighter Jerrod Jones hugs his former high school English teacher, Jason Muhammad, on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at a news conference where Jones said he was forced while on duty to attend a party that mocked the Juneteenth holiday.

The Rochester firefighter who complained last summer that his supervisor took him to a racist Juneteenth parody party while on duty sparked intense public outrage has filed a lawsuit against the city.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court by Jerrod Jones, levels sweeping allegations of racial discrimination against the Rochester Fire Department that extend beyond the party and date to Jones’s start with the agency in 2007. Jones is Black.

Jones notified the city of his intent to sue last August, shortly after he went public with his story that his supervisor, former Capt. Jeff Krywy, brought him to a faux Juneteenth party hosted by local socialites Dr. Nicholas Nicosia and Mary Znidarsic-Nicosia.

News of that party, in which the couple allegedly served Hennessey cognac and Kentucky Fried Chicken while mocking local Democratic political figures, made international headlines. The Nicosias have insisted there was nothing racist about the gathering, and that the object of their scorn was liberal politicians. The public fallout, however, included the couple being ousted from their affiliations with prominent local organizations and businesses.

Jones is seeking $5 million in compensation for being brought to the party — $4 million for emotional distress and $1 million for loss of reputation.

But Jones also alleges that he endured a racist and hostile work environment for years as a city firefighter.

His lawsuit claims that firefighters regularly engaged in unnecessary demolition when responding to calls in Black neighborhoods, both as entertainment and a form of “practice.”

“For example, it was a practice to put a ventilation hole in a roof in less than dangerous situations in Black neighborhood to ‘prepare’ for more dangerous situation later in white neighborhoods,” the lawsuit reads. “They referred to this as ‘getting in reps.’ Firefighters rationalized their actions by asserting that poor and Black people failed to take care of their property anyway.”

Following the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the lawsuit alleges, white firefighters repeatedly called Martin a thug. Jones alleges those sentiments led to a ban on hoodies in the department.

“Many white firefighters were callous about Martin’s murder, asserting that hoodies represented the wardrobe of criminals causing Chief John Caufield ban RFD hoodies,” the lawsuit reads.

Krywy, who is now retired, is described in court papers as embodying the worst of the firefighter culture that Jones claims to have witnessed. The lawsuit claims Krywy was behind a racist social media account that has since been deactivated.

Krywy stepped down as captain in the fallout of the news of the Nicosia party becoming public. A subsequent city investigation into the matter found that the party was “political with many racial stereotypes” and recommended that Krywy be fired. He eventually filed for retirement.

Jones was under Krywy’s command on July 7 when the captain brought him and two other firefighters to the party at the Nicosias’ mansion on East Avenue. The lawsuit repeats many of the claims previously made about the party, including that it featured a burlesque dancer portraying County Legislator Rachel Barnhart, paper cut-out heads of Councilmember Mitch Gruber and members of the Rochester Police Accountability Board on stakes, and that Juneteenth flags were placed prominently around the property.

The lawsuit also doubles down on claims made by Jones’ lawyer, Nate McMurray, including that former Rochester police officer and current Irondequoit Chief Scott Peters was in attendance. In January, Peters filed a defamation suit against McMurray for claiming he was there, to which McMurray later filed a counterclaim.

A spokesperson for the city said the lawsuit had not been served to them yet, and declined to comment on pending litigation.

Jones remains a city firefighter but has not returned to work since the incident. Jones claims to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and threats of harassment and “physical harm.”

In April, Jones filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That case is currently under investigation.

Gino Fanelli covers City Hall. He joined the staff a reporter in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.