Southfield, MI—In his first statement since announcing a $10 million lawsuit against Mayor Sheldon Neeley and the City of Flint, former Flint fire chief Raymond Barton alleged that he was wrongfully dismissed for refusing to lie on the mayor’s behalf.
At a press conference on Jan. 9, 2023, Barton’s attorney, Arnold Reed, claimed his client was terminated for refusing to take credit for the decision to place two firefighters on paid suspension over their conduct surround a May 2022 house fire that resulted in the deaths of Zy’Aire Mitchell, 12, and LaMar Mitchell, 9.
Barton has said that he initially recommended that the two firefighters, Sergeant Daniel Sniegocki and Firefighter Michael Zlotek, be suspended without pay.
According to Barton’s previous account of the incident, Sniegocki and Zlotek were among the first to arrive on the scene and were tasked to search the home for occupants. They issued an “all clear” while the two boys were still inside, which delayed the rescue of the children. This could have made the difference between life and death, Barton told Flint City Council in October.
At the time, Barton claimed that Sniegocki and Zlotek submitted falsified reports of the incident, which Reed said other firefighters had called to Barton’s attention.
“A couple firefighters came and talked to the chief and said, ‘Hey, chief, we went in that house, we were there. It’s impossible for them to have done the search as they said they did.’ And that kicked off the investigation,” Reed said. “Ray did a thorough investigation. It was his decision to terminate at the end of the investigation—that’s where it was leading.”
However, Reed claimed, the mayor didn’t want that.
“The mayor was running for office and it was a hotly-contested race and wanted Ray to falsify the reports, leave things out, and say he was going to change the discipline.”
Reed’s Jan. 8 announcement of the $10 million lawsuit alleged Neeley wanted Barton to alter documentation regarding the fire to help the mayor secure support from the firefighters’ union in November’s general election. However, Reed said at the conference, his client refused the alleged requests.
“Ray said, ‘No, number one, two children died. Number two, the mother is highly upset, as any mother would be, and lawsuits are going to be flying. I am not going to lie for you,’” Reed said. “The mayor asked him again and again. Ray continued to refuse to alter the reports. Then he went over Ray’s head, so to speak, and changed it himself and told Ray that ‘Since I changed it, you go in front of City Council and tell the people it was my decision.’”
Ultimately, when Barton was called before City Council to discuss the fire, he denied that he recommended suspending the two firefighters with pay. At the time, Barton said that the decision instead came “through advisement” from City Attorney William Kim, City Administrator Clyde Edwards, and Flint Human Resources Director Eddie Smith.
By suing the city and mayor, Barton said he wanted to clear his name.
“I feel like a person in the military getting a dishonorable discharge. The problem is I didn’t do anything wrong. All I did was tell the truth,” Barton said. “With all I’ve given to the city, I should have felt like I should have been able to go out on my own terms. I was told to either resign or get fired.”
Reed reiterated Barton is now seeking $10 million in damages through a federal lawsuit against the City of Flint and Mayor Neeley, which he said was filed earlier on Jan. 9.
“We feel that is justified. We feel that is something that is absolutely necessary in this particular case because of the way this was done. It was completely unfair, it completely took Ray off guard—a person who has done so much for this community for so many years, consistently,” Reed said.
Flint’s interim communications director, Caitie O’Neill, told Flint Beat that the City had not been served with the lawsuit and had no comment as of Jan. 9.