FDNY firefighter sues colleagues in defaming tabloid case

Michael Johnson is targeting the firefighters who teed up tabloid stories saying he ran away from fires


By Andrew Keshner
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — A firefighter is going after fellow smoke-eaters who he says slimed him with media leaks painting him as unfit for the job, the Daily News has learned.

Michael Johnson — an African-American "priority hire" who joined FDNY ranks in the wake of a fiery legal battle to diversify the department — is targeting the firefighters who teed up tabloid stories saying he ran away from fires.

Johnson's Brooklyn federal lawsuit said Paul Mannix and others in the now-defunct Merit Matters organization fed photos and personal information of Johnson to friendly media outlets.

The culmination was a May 2015 article with a picture that purported to show Johnson outside a burning building, supposedly too scared to fight the blaze.

Johnson's lawsuit said he was inside the burning Brooklyn building when he saw his oxygen gauge was perilously near empty and left for a refill. But the damage was done with the anonymously sourced hit job, he said in the lawsuit.

Mannix and others fed photos and personal information "to destroy Johnson's career with the FDNY, and portray all priority hires like Johnson as incompetent and cowardly in the company of 'New York's Bravest.' "

The lawsuit grows out of a 2016 civil rights case Johnson is pressing against the city and various FDNY members, but not Mannix.

That case claims Johnson endured unfair performance evaluations and humiliating firehouse drills at Brooklyn's Engine Co. 257, like practice putting on his pants at the start of every tour.

Meanwhile, the city "failed to meaningfully address a longstanding pattern of open and hostile opposition to priority hires" and court orders, the lawsuit charges.

Telephone records recently dredged up in the 2016 lawsuit said Mannix was one of the sources providing Johnson's "personal and confidential information."

Mannix, now the president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, declined to comment. In 2015, the deputy battalion chief was docked 50 days of pay for the leaking scandal. He also shuttered his Merit Matters group.

Court papers show in 2016, Mannix agreed to personally pay $45,000 to a black firefighter who said Mannix and another FDNY brass member leaked his drug test results. The other FDNY member, retired battalion chief Rory Houton, had to shell out $10,000.

Johnson, 42, is still a firefighter, according to the suit filed Saturday. His lawyer declined to comment to The News.

Copyright 2018 New York Daily News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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