Elbert Starks, a 21-year veteran of the Fort Wayne Fire Department, will not be reinstated as a fire captain - following a ruling Tuesday night by the Fire Merit Commission.
“We’re disappointed,” said Fort Wayne Professional Firefighters Union President Jeremy Bush told ABC21 over the phone.
“We believe based on state law and local ordinance the Merit Commission has the authority to accept the officer’s resignation and also reinstate the officer," added Bush. "We believe the Merit Commission’s decision to uphold and agree with the City’s position, that the Chief has the authority, is the wrong one. But we’ll continue to fight and advocate for the right thing - and that’s to support Elbert Starks."
Starks claims he was subjected to inappropriate racial comments in a city firehouse for five months. When Starks issued a formal complaint against another firefighter, Starks was asked to move to another station. Starks says the pressure and stress from that reassignment and the department's response to his complaint, prompted him to make an emotionally-charged decision to resign from his position as captain.
Within 24 hours, Starks changed his mind – but it was too late. Fire Chief Eric Lahey already accepted Starks’ resignation, and denied his request to have his job back as a fire captain.
“I’m not upset with Chief Lahey,” said Starks at a merit commission hearing back in April. “I think he needs to do the right thing.”
At that same April hearing, Lahey defended his decision to not reinstate Starks as captain – saying all resignations should be immediately accepted for the safety of firefighters and Fort Wayne citizens.
“It should not be taken lightly,” said Lahey. “The assumption is that it was thought through and should be accepted.”
Bush now plans to reach out to Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill for an opinion on Starks' case.