Nooses a threat, NAACP says Black fireman twice found ropes in gear at Balto. Co. station

December 09, 1996|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Brenda Buote contributed to this article.

The head of the Baltimore County NAACP said yesterday that ropes tied in nooses and found in the locker of a black firefighter at the Towson fire station can only be interpreted as a threat on his life.

"Throughout our history, African-American men have been hanged with nooses," said Patricia C. Ferguson, president of the Baltimore County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "The only way this can be seen vTC is as a threat to the life of this man."

A police investigation began Friday after James Gerard Shelton, 34, of Randallstown reported that a rope tied in a noose had fallen from his gear. It was the second time in four days he had found a noose in his locker area, according to a police report.

Shelton is one of two black firefighters among more than 40 assigned to the station, police said. He was disturbed and angered by the incidents and felt they were racially motivated, according to Ferguson and the police report.

Shelton could not be reached for comment yesterday. Ferguson said that she had spoken with him several times and that her organization was speaking on his behalf.

Shelton, who is not scheduled to work until later this week, is hesitant to return to duty, Ferguson said.

"This was done at the hands of one of his own co-workers," Ferguson said. "This was a secured location that only certain people had access to. Mr. Shelton is really unsure of what to do now. He is unsure of his life and his job."

Authorities said the investigation will probably not be completed before Wednesday. Police are interviewing firefighters and supervisors at the Towson station on York Road, where the incidents occurred, said Bill Toohey, a spokesman for the county police.

"We are dealing with this strongly and quickly and considering it a very serious matter," Battalion Chief Mark F. Hubbard of the county fire department said.

"If it was intended as a practical joke or a hoax, we do not support or condone this in any way. Our concern is the fact that it is our duty to provide a positive work environment for our employees. This type of incident jeopardizes that," Hubbard said.

Police are considering the incidents to be harassment and said it may ultimately be deemed a hate crime, Toohey said.

Tuesday, in the first incident, Shelton found a rope hanging on the second rung of his locker, the report said. The rope was the same type used by firefighters in their work, the report said.

Shelton did not tell his superiors about the first incident, but he showed the noose to a co-worker, the report said.

On Friday, another noose dropped from Shelton's coat when he pulled it off the hook, Hubbard said. Shelton immediately told his superiors, who called police, the report said.

Shelton had had no problems -- racial or otherwise -- at the Towson station, where he has worked for more than eight years, the report said.

Ferguson, however, said Shelton told her the tires of his car were punctured at least five times shortly after he joined the Towson station in 1988. Police could not confirm that report.

Shelton had no other such problems at the station until last week's incidents, Ferguson said.

Pub Date: 12/09/96

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