Houston Firefighter's Facebook Post Under Investigation

July 03--The Houston firefighter's Facebook posts about her father angered Gracie Gonzalez.

But how the Houston Fire Department responded to accusations that the comments were offensive brought her to tears.

"He made a racial slur," Gonzalez said, breaking down in tears on Wednesday. "And now he gets a mini-vacation while being investigated? What more investigation do they need to do?"

Kerry Williams, an emergency medical technician, is accused of writing on his personal Facebook account that he had been looking for a "drunk Mexican" while searching for the 47-year-old man who drowned Friday evening. Williams has been moved to a desk job with pay while officials investigate.

Gonzalez said her father, Victor Gonzalez, spent most weekends relaxing on Lake Houston in Humble, fishing with friends and family. It was after 7 p.m. Friday when he jumped from his friend's boat, swam away and did not come back, HPD officials said.

Police officers in boats, divers and a helicopter searched for him for hours, and for that Gonzalez said she was thankful.

But the next day she learned Williams was posting about the search on his Facebook page.

"When I saw it, I was devastated," she said. "It makes the whole department look bad."

At 1:37 a.m. Williams allegedly posted: "So 45 mins after afore mentioned 'drunk Mexican' jumped from his boat we go searching. An hour later HPD dive team and helicopter show up. We are done with our search no body recover and no 'drunk Mexican' "

Williams, who has worked for HFD since 2003, did not respond to emails and calls for comment.

Gonzalez provided to the Houston Chronicle screenshots of the Facebook account before it was apparently deleted. In one of the shots, one of Williams' defenders says the firefighter was quoting someone who called authorities about the incident.

Gonzalez said her family is outraged that Williams will continue to be paid while the investigation continues.

"I want him fired," she said. "Somebody who doesn't have some kind of compassion shouldn't be working in a job like that." She said she appreciated the work by the rest of the first responders, but that Williams' alleged comments were wrong and the department's response has been tepid.

"There's no telling how many other people he's done this to," she said. "I feel like (the response) is a slap in the face."

She said her father had been drinking before he got on his friend's boat, but was not intoxicated. She has asked the Harris County coroner's office to perform a toxicology test during the autopsy.

"He was not drunk," she said.

Fire department officials on Wednesday said Williams, 35, had been "relieved of duty (with pay) and transferred to an administrative position pending the investigation."

They also released a statement reading: "It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation, except to say that we take violations of this nature very seriously. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the victim. Comments like these are not a reflection of the nearly 4,000 men and women of the HFD who perform their jobs everyday with courage and compassion."

HFD employees use the guidelines for private use of social media that is the same for all City of Houston employees, department officials said. The policy allows incidental and occasional personal use at work as long it is "limited in duration and does not have a detrimental effect on employee productivity."

"Use common sense when using social media sites," it reads. "Refrain from posting information that you would not want your supervisor or other employees to read or that you would be embarrassed to see in the newspaper or on television."

Copyright 2014 - Houston Chronicle

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