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Asst. chief demoted after tying noose at firehouse

An investigation found that he tied a rope into a noose, left it in the kitchen and later threw it at a black firefighter


The Associated Press

MARION, Ind. — An assistant fire chief in Indiana has accepted a demotion after tying a rope into a noose in the presence of a black firefighter whose wife belongs to the family of a lynching victim.

City Attorney Tom Hicks said Marion firefighter Rick Backs accepted a demotion to private in a meeting Tuesday with Fire Chief Paul David, the Chronicle-Tribune reported.

An investigation by David found Backs tied a rope into a noose and left it in a fire station kitchen Feb. 13. Black firefighter Mikel Neal said Backs threw the noose at him, but other firefighters said Backs laid the noose on a table.

Hicks said Backs was allowed to keep his job because of a “lack of disciplinary history and his avowed statement that it was not racially motivated.”

Backs has said in a statement that while he “had no malicious intent, tying that particular knot showed poor judgment and I understand the feelings of those I offended.”

An attorney representing Neal and his wife, RaChelle Fears-Neal, called for Backs’ dismissal during a news conference Wednesday.

“It’s not a joke. It’s not funny,” attorney Walter Madison said. “And if Mr. Backs doesn’t have the brain power to understand such an act is so harmful not only to the Neals but the community and to the country, I hardly find a place for him in public service.”

Rachelle Fears-Neal is a cousin to Abram Smith, one of two black men lynched in Marion on Aug. 7, 1930, after being charged with killing a white man and raping his girlfriend.

David has apologized on behalf of the fire department and has said members of the department will undergo sensitivity and diversity training.

Backs had been suspended with pay since March 11. Hicks said Backs’ demotion went into effect immediately and the suspension has been lifted.