Officials: San Antonio chief violated city policies with 'body sushi' photo

A battalion chief reported the photo, saying Fire Chief Charles Hood's actions were degrading to women and Asian people

Emilie Eaton
San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO — Fire Chief Charles Hood violated city policies when he posed for a photo with a mostly nude woman covered in sushi at a birthday party earlier this year, city officials said Tuesday.

City policy states that fire department employees "shall not engage in any activity tending to create a negative public perception of the Fire Department." Hood clearly violated the policy, an outside attorney hired by the city to conduct a review of Hood's behavior found.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood was sent a letter of discipline after city officials determined he violated department policy by posing for a photo with a mostly-nude woman covered in sushi.
San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood was sent a letter of discipline after city officials determined he violated department policy by posing for a photo with a mostly-nude woman covered in sushi. (Photo/City of San Antonio)

Hood also failed to report a complaint about the photo to the Human Resources Department, city officials said.

Battalion Chief Brian McEnery reported the photo to Assistant Fire Chief Neal Ague on Sept. 17, asking him to forward his complaint along with the photograph up the chain of command to the Human Resources Department.

"Chief Ague, last night I texted you a picture of Chief Hood eating sushi off of the naked body of a young Asian girl," McEnery wrote.

"I have two Asian relatives that are members of the SAFD. I cannot begin to tell you how offensive I find Chief Hood's actions. His actions degraded all Asians and women reducing them to nothing more than serving platters."

That same day, Ague forwarded McEnery's complaint to Deputy Fire Chief Andrew Estrada. But it never reached Hood's supervisor or the city's Human Resources Department, the attorney found.

After the review was completed, City Manager Erik Walsh sent Hood a letter of discipline, asking him to submit a memo detailing how he plans to handle future discrimination complaints.

In response, Hood outlined a number of initiatives he plans to focus on to improve fire department culture and ensure that women are provided with equal opportunities.

The findings of the review Tuesday come a little over a month after the photos were published in the San Antonio Express-News, drawing criticism from Mayor Ron Nirenberg and other city officials.

Walsh called the photographs "a serious issue" and directed the city attorney to conduct an external review.

In copies of the photos, Hood can be seen kneeling on the floor next to the woman lying on a table. The front of her body is partly covered in sushi, flowers and leaves. She does not appear to be wearing any clothes underneath the display.

Hood, who was not wearing a uniform, holds a piece of sushi with chopsticks in his right hand. "I think I want me some tuna," Hood is heard saying in a live photo, a feature on iPhones.

The use of a nude female as a platter for sushi — called "body sushi" or "naked sushi" — is part of the Japanese practice of nyotaimori, which in recent years has been criticized for objectifying and degrading women.

While Hood apologized to anyone offended by the photographs, he defended his decision to pose, saying it was like taking a picture with a flamenco dancer in Las Vegas or a Spurs dancer at Top Golf, a popular driving range and entertainment venue.

The woman in the photo was hired for a 50th birthday party earlier this year for firefighter Shody Henshaw, a 23-year veteran. About 200 guests attended the celebration at Henshaw's home near Canyon Lake.

About 70 of those in attendance were firefighters, some of them high-ranking members of the department, including Chris Steele, president of the fire union, Henshaw said in October.


(c)2020 the San Antonio Express-News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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