Flint, MI – Former Flint fire chief Raymond Barton will sue Mayor Sheldon Neeley and the City of Flint for $10 million over allegations of wrongful termination, according to a Jan. 8, 2023 press release from Barton’s attorney, Arnold Reed.
The release says that Barton was terminated “in connection with his refusal to lie and coverup (sic) the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of two young African American brothers whose lives were claimed in a house fire in May of 2022.”
The house fire refers to a fire that occurred on 637 W. Pulaski St. on May 28, 2022. The Flint Fire Department stopped the blaze but failed to find the two children inside the home during their initial search of the site, prompting then-fire chief Barton to investigate the conduct of two of the first responders, Fire Sergeant Daniel Sniegocki and Firefighter Michael Zlotek.
Attorney Arnold Reed is quoted in the press release:
“During the course of his investigation, evidence revealed that two Caucasian firefighters claimed that they did a sweep of an upstairs bedroom and radioed that it was ‘all clear.’ Approximately 6-7 minutes later, other firefighters entered the home and found Zyaire (12) in the bed and his younger brother Lamar (9) on the floor in the doorway of the same room the Caucasian firefighters claimed to have searched. Both children were breathing but in critical condition. They were rushed to the hospital and subsequently died a week later.
“Barton concluded that the firefighters had lied about sweeping the home and going upstairs where the children were found. Barton recommended suspension without pay pending termination. Enter Mayor Sheldon Neeley, who at the time, was in a hotly contested race for Mayor. According to Barton, the Mayor wanted him to change and alter documentation regarding the investigation and its outcome because Neeley needed the firefighters’ union to support his bid for re-election and that of his wife, who was running for State Representative. Barton refused, and nine days after Neeley took office, he terminated Barton.”
Before his termination, Barton had said that his recommendation to have Sniegocki and Zlotek fired was changed to suspension without pay “through advisement” from City Attorney William Kim, City Administrator Clyde Edwards, and Flint Human Resources Director Eddie Smith.
Sniegocki resigned after the investigation. Zlotek returned to the department after two weeks of suspension and additional search-and-rescue training, but eventually resigned in mid-November.
City administration has neither confirmed nor denied that Barton was fired, with their only comment being a Nov. 17 media statement thanking Barton for “decades of service to this community” and announcing that former Flint chief Theron Wiggins would serve as interim fire chief in his place.
Reed said that Barton’s federal lawsuit against Mayor Neeley and the City of Flint will be filed on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.