Volunteer firefighter denies using racial slur in social media post

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, November 11, 2020

By Shavonne Potts

SALISBURY — For the second time this year, a local volunteer fire department has come under scrutiny after one of its volunteers was accused of using a racial slur against a Hispanic woman.

Ellis Cross Country volunteer firefighter Jason Barber denies he made the now-viral Facebook post and says his account was hacked. But the incident has prompted the department to create a social media policy.

Concord resident Lizeth Diaz said she responded to a Facebook post on Barber’s page. The post, which said “Don’t blame me I voted for Dan,” in regards to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper. Diaz responded by saying, “He needs to go run and take all them signs off the streets.” In response, a comment from Barber’s account stated, “Maybe you should run back across the border you (racial slur).”

The original post, which has since been deleted, has gone viral after Diaz shared screenshots in a new post on her Facebook page. On Nov. 4, Diaz shared a series of screenshots to her Facebook page that has been shared over 132 times.

Ellis Cross Country Assistant Fire Chief and spokeswoman Chris Kepley said she and Fire Chief Jeff Whitley have spoken with Barber. According to Kepley, Barber received a notification from Facebook inquiring as to whether he logged into his account from another state.

“Right now, he has the benefit of the doubt and remains on the department,” Kepley said.

She said the department investigated the matter and doesn’t want to diminish Diaz’s concerns, but has not found any evidence the comment came from Barber.

Kepley said the department is currently drafting a social media usage policy that will be distributed to all of its members. After the policy is finalized, members will conduct training regarding the policy.

Part of the policy will require members to remove any affiliation with Ellis Cross Country from their social media pages and refrain from any post that could be considered inflammatory in any way. Any member who makes such a post that can be proven will be subject to disciplinary action, Kepley said.

Kepley said the department became involved when Diaz and others who know her posted on the fire department’s Facebook page and emailed the department as well as the chief asking for Barber’s removal. A few of her friends also contacted Barber’s employer. Kepley said Diaz’s friends also gave negative reviews on the fire department’s Facebook page and have listed names of other fire officers who are not involved.

The most recent incident comes a few months after former volunteer firefighter Blaine Shellhorn in June was dismissed after he came under fire following racist comments made in a social media message to a Black woman regarding the Confederate statue “Fame.” A petition that received thousands of signatures calling for the revocation of Shellhorn’s acceptance to South Carolina Military College, the Citadel, led to the college rescinding his acceptance.

The Post reached out to Diaz for further comment but did not receive a response.