NAACP president disavows letter calling for Norwalk fire chief’s resignation

Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy
Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy marches in Monday’s Memorial Day Parade. (Photo by Miguel Cruz)

NORWALK, Conn. – A letter released Monday by a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) officer was disavowed Tuesday by the organization’s president.

The letter calling for the resignation of Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy was not authorized, NAACP Norwalk branch President Darnell Crosland said. NAACP First Vice President Andre Williams, who released the letter, disagreed and said it was discussed at an NAACP executive board meeting and authorized.

On Monday, Williams said Mayor Harry Rilling had promised before the election to fire McCarthy, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord and then-Personnel Director James Haselkamp. Rilling said Tuesday evening that wasn’t true.

“There was never any promises or comments made like that,” Rilling said. “If I ever talked about any department heads before the primary and before the election and even after, I just said there are people who need to be held accountable and they’re going to be on my radar and I’m going to make sure they’re accountable or else they need to start looking elsewhere. That’s all I’ve ever said. I never mentioned any names.”

Crosland said he would release a written statement.

“I called the state-wide president and I spoke to him,” Crosland said. “Only the president of the branch speaks. That’s just the rule.”

Williams’ letter is attached below. NancyOnNorwalk held it back to give McCarthy a chance to respond. He has not answered two emails.

The letter accuses McCarthy of racism.

“We, the Norwalk Branch of the NAACP, believe Denis McCarthy’s lack of leadership, prejudicial treatment of, and disrespect shown towards black firefighters past and present are the major reasons recruitment efforts to bolster the number of black candidates for the Fire Department have failed,” the letter states.

The letter is “a pronouncement that is long overdue,” the letter states. It goes on to detail a history of alleged racism beginning in 2005 when, the letter states, McCarthy spearheaded a campaign to suspend, then fire, a black firefighter who was accused of a crime. The charges were later dropped, the letter states.

It recounts a 2006 video which allegedly caught racist remarks made by a firefighter and accuses McCarthy of lying. It goes on to say that, in 2012, a white firefighter was charged with a federal crime and suspended for 30 days, referring to James Lyons. In March 2014, a white firefighter was arrested after stealing fire department equipment, it states, referring to Jason Penna, who was dismissed from the department.

“Why do blacks get suspended indefinitely without pay while whites get placed on paid leave under Chief McCarthy’s watch?” the letter asks.

It goes on to recount recent history.

“Recently Mayor Rilling met with the president and first vice president of the NAACP to discuss the dwindling number of African Americans in the fire department. The mayor had the great idea, backed by the NAACP, of acquiring accredited/certified firefighter candidates, something McCarthy is unwilling to do.”

The letter concludes, “We believe it would be in the best interest of our great city and fine Fire Department if you resign your position of Fire Chief to restore integrity and renew morale and we, as an organization and vital component of this city, will strongly oppose any renewal of your contract or extension of service of any kind you may seek from the current administration.”

Williams is a former firefighter who was dismissed in 2009 after failing to complete required rehabilitation after a series of incidents.

He said he had been asked to write the letter because he was aware of things that happened in the firehouse. The situation will be discussed Thursday at an NAACP executive board meeting, he said, promising to bring the minutes of the earlier meeting in which he said the letter was discussed.

“(McCarthy) has done nothing for us,” Williams said. “I have documentation to back up everything I have said about him since day one. … Anything I say about Mr. McCarthy I will put my name to it.”

McCarthy has “no respect for death of a family member,” as he has never attended a funeral for a black firefighter’s family member, although he is “front and center” at funerals for white firefighters and their families, Williams said. McCarthy didn’t know the names of the two black fire department chaplains when asked, Williams said.

These are charges made to NancyOnNorwalk a year ago by an African American firefighter who asked to remain anonymous.

Rilling expressed his unhappiness about the letter, and said he never listed any names of department heads that might be fired or not renewed. He said he would not discuss any city employee’s job status in public. “It’s just not something I’m going to do.” Rilling did say he has told people that he would be watching and assessing his department heads, that some were on his radar and had been operating with autonomy.

Rilling said he spoke with the department heads named by Williams.

“I’ve had a conversation with both of them (Alvord and McCarthy), and I told them the letter was not authorized by the NAACP, and it was filled with inaccuracies.”

Rilling confirmed the recent meeting with McCarthy and NAACP leaders including Williams and Darnel Crosland, the group’s president. “We discussed different ways to increase the minority hiring pool,” he said, including finding candidates that are already certified firefighters from other jurisdictions.

“This was something that I proposed, finding firefighters already certified, see if they are interested in coming to Norwalk,” he said. “We do this on the Police Department.”

He said it was also suggested by someone else that they might try to get volunteers from Rowayton who would like to be fulltime firefighters.”

Norwalk NAACP call for resignation006


34 responses to “NAACP president disavows letter calling for Norwalk fire chief’s resignation”

  1. Norewalk Lifer

    Obviously the sausage was sold before it was made.

    Norwalk Lifer

  2. Rewindto2013

    Rilling hasn’t fulfilled one campaign promises. Darnell should know, he was promised Corporation Counsel and got burned…he actually just let Rilling burn him a 2nd and 3rd time by nominating him for a position he will never win and by asking him to come out with this response that along with his unresponsiveness to issues in the African American community will lose him his Presidency. He only won by 4 questionable votes the first time.

  3. M. Murray’s

    A convicted felon pushing for the termination of his former boss who fired him? Any conflict of interest here?

  4. RU4REAL

    Everyone is focusing on Mr. Williams and his history when others with complaints haven’t been heard from. Wait for ALL the facts in regard to EACH accusation, my understanding is there was an African American woman who was treated badly too and fired by the chief, that no one has spoken to as of yet. Mr. Williams is only the messenger, just because you may dislike the messenger doesn’t mean there is no truth to the message. The silence from the chief is deafening, most would defend themselves against these serious accusations if innocent.

  5. M. Murray’s

    It’s hard not to focus on the messenger in this instance. He is a convicted felon with no credibility due to a potential personal agenda against those who terminated him because of his crime. Add to this the fact that his own President is saying that he doesn’t represent his organization in this letter further decreases his credibility. While you say to wait for all the facts, maybe Mr. Williams should have waited until all facts could be revealed before issuing this letter without authorization from his own President.

  6. The Deal

    @M. Murray’s
    Of what federal crime was Mr. Williams convicted? Mr. Williams also stated organizational meeting minutes prove the letter was authorized. I’m betting there’s more to come.

  7. Anonymous

    @The Deal: so he didn’t steal from others and not pay back the money? He was fired for no reason? Has he had any run-ins with the law lately? Maybe NON should do a little investigative reporting and see what he’s been up to?

  8. M. Murray’s

    Convicted felon. As in felony. Not federal. It was larceny 2nd. I may be mistaken but I believe it was 2 counts. It was theft in excess of $20,000

  9. piberman

    Another example in addition to NEON’s long simmering failures that much better leadership is required here in Norwalk’s African community. Accusations against Mayor Rilling and Chief McCarthy clearly lack merit.

  10. Norwalk Voter

    Mayor Rilling made no promises before his election, not Corp Counsel, not Economic Development, not City Clerk and certainly not firing specific department heads. People sometimes project the neutral words spoken from a truthful and kind person as a promise. Considering people’s skills or their ideas does not constitute a promise. Let’s all try to work together for a better Norwalk and stop tearing each other down. This is counter productive.

  11. LWitherspoon

    “On Monday, Williams said Mayor Harry Rilling had promised before the election to fire McCarthy, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord and then-Personnel Director James Haselkamp. Rilling said Tuesday evening that wasn’t true.”
    Can Mr. Williams elaborate on when and where Mr. Rilling promised to fire Mssrs. McCarthy, Alvord, and Haselkamp? Was anyone else present?
    It’s certainly interesting that Mr. Haselkamp has already been let go.

  12. Bill

    How about all these people who want government jobs try to get jobs in the private sector? I know a cushy government job in CT is worth a lot, but maybe, just maybe try to build, create, or make something rather than the alternative. I’m not saying cops and firefighters don’t do admirable jobs, but they are overpaid in Norwalk and resources would be better spent on developing our private sector.

  13. Casey Smith

    “Crosland said he would release a written statement. “I called the state-wide president and I spoke to him,” Crosland said. “Only the president of the branch speaks. That’s just the rule.”
    Oops! Somebody apparently forgot to send Mr. Williams the memo ’cause he’s clearly speaking on behalf of the NAACP.
    “We, the Norwalk Branch of the NAACP, believe Denis McCarthy’s lack of leadership, prejudicial treatment of, and disrespect shown towards black firefighters past and present…”
    “in 2012, a white firefighter was charged with a federal crime and suspended for 30 days”
    Well, there’s just a TAD bit more to that story. According to the October 23, 2012 Hour article, “the city’s director of personnel and labor relations, said Lyons WAS REINSTATED BECAUSE HE HAD WORKED OUT A PLEA DEAL w wherein he would plead guilty to a MISDEMEANOR CHARGE in exchange for a sentence of probation.” [Emphasis mine] http://www.thehour.com/news/norwalk/firefighter-returns-from-suspension/article_8bf3738d-db4f-5fd7-89be-2af64c9b4561.html
    I would imagine that since the arrest was executed by the Feds, the plea deal was negotiated between Lyon’s attorney and the Federal prosecutor, not Chief McCarthy, the previous Mayor or the former personnel director. Pesky little details.
    One thing is clear, there are certain residents who are bound and determined to get Mr. Alvord and Chief McCarthy fired. At least now we know the names of some of those who have an ax to grind.

  14. J.B Walton

    Funny. An axe to grind. A seed to sow. Unless he’s got an ace up his sleeve he comes across as very selfish Kind of reminds me of the recent Simms dust up at NEON. Again, what we are shown or told is Unsubstantiated claims including false innuendo and apparently a few lies mixed in. You go to the press with a story like this BACK IT UP. Everyone knows that If it smells like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, and walks like a duck….


    Furthermore, the media ought to do a little more background and or vetting on a story like this prior to running it.

  15. The Deal

    Thank you M.

  16. M. Murray’s

    I would think that a better recruiting effort would be to go to colleges and get minority college graduates and minority firefighters from other areas to apply for Norwalk. Let’s focus on getting the most qualified minority candidates to come to Norwalk to take the test. Don’t limit ourselves to a small pool of candidates. Expand the pool to higher educated and already qualified candidates, and they will perform well on the entrance exams.

  17. A. Williams

    First and foremost i will address all who say I:m a felon,career criminal or a thief. I never stole anything from anyone in the firehouse, denis tried to get a dispather to sign a complaint and call the police and make that claim. This was told to me and another f.f. by said dispather. My court case was a real estate deal gone bad, i was charged with a felony because i stopped payment on 3 cks totaling close to 20,000. The real estate deal price/conditions changed after the owners bought in their son and changed to a dba. A price increase i wasn’t gonna pay and conditions i would not agree to. After several court apperances, my attny working with their attny and the judge. I was ordered by the judge to make good on all monies and sent to jail for a year and charged with a felony. After all the money was paid in full, the judge gave me an unconditional discharge after their attny said they were completely satisfied because they just wanted the monies for all cks signed at the contract. So I’m not a felon or criminal. Now on to what’s most important, the letter i wrote didn’t contain any names of city officals except denis McCarthy. The naacp is an organization of equality/justice for ALL, i have definded blk ff’s,a wht ff and a wht woman for things denis has said or wanted them to do to save his butt for lying to the ff’s’ the press or for calling him out for something he did that wasn’t right. The wht ff was who is still active was being pressured by denis to say he made racist commets towards a blk ff so he could use him as a scapegoat for his lack of leadership. I stood up for the wht ff at the naacp and told them he was not a racist. The wht woman was threaten by denis because she questioned him about ms deluca. I called denis and told him he made a big mistake by attacking her in that way. Both parties will step-up to attest to this. Myself,pres crosland, 3rd vice williams and the ex bd will talk tomm and figure out the best way to move forward with our message and get it out to th public. We won’t let negative commets conquer/divide our mission or organization. Thank You….

  18. RU4REAL

    In some instances higher education (book smart) is nice to have if you are seeking a promotion but firefighting is a blue collar job. It is often better to have a person that has worked in the real world, ask a firefighter you know to see what they think, after speaking with some I know they said you can throw the books in the fire, book smart doesn’t always work so well because no one tells the fire you scored a 95, we are the grunts. They also mentioned that some book smart guys hired couldn’t(not wouldn’t)mop a floor as part of their daily firehouse duties. A high school graduate with a GED may not score 95 but he/she may impress in an interview after scoring an 80 because they may not test well. You will never know because the last FD test you needed to score a 94 to get to the oral portion of the test and the test before that you needed a 95 to reach the oral portion. What exactly does it mean lowering the standards with that in mind? Does anyone know how many are interviewed for the oral portion of the process?

  19. RU4REAL

    Thank you Mr. Williams, I think everyone should wait for the facts and not jump to any conclusions about ANYONE speaking up because you don’t want to hear the message. What if these allegations are true?

  20. M. Murray’s

    I must be mistaken. I thought you were the one on the Ct Judicial website convicted and sentenced to 3 years for larceny, several operating under suspensions, and engaging police in pursuit.

  21. Anonymous

    @Murry’s: I’m sure they were just misunderstandings like the real estate deal.

  22. One and Done.

    @ A Williams. You would have been better off stealing directly from the NFD or the city. That seems to be a much safer play.
    Can you please share with us when and where the mayor made these promises and who else might have been present?
    These are some pretty serious allegations not only against the fire chief, but more so the mayor. You must understand that you will need to provide more details here for your allegations to have any basis.
    Those who would discredit you for your past mistakes are doing all a disservice without demanding this from you and would seem to be covering up something embarrassing they don’t want released. Please tell us the specifics so we are clear.
    One and Done.

  23. EveT

    Is it part of the job description that the chief is required to attend funerals for the family members of firefighters?

  24. RU4REAL

    Mr. Williams received an unconditional discharge in his case, does that mean no jail time?
    Either way let’s stop going after the messenger, its the message that’s important.
    Now back on point; the issue is the racism allegations, are they true and how do we go about finding the truth?
    Has the chief responded to your inquiries Nancy?

    1. Mark Chapman


      No response.

  25. Anonymous

    Somebody’s lying: either the mayor who said he didn’t say anything or Mr. Williams. So who is it?

  26. RU4REAL

    First and foremost we need to find out if the racism allegations are true, simple right? What the Mayor or Mr. Williams may or may not have said can wait.
    Thanks for the reply Mark.

  27. RU4REAL

    I don’t know about how you would feel Eve, but if my boss went to pay their condolences to everyone else but me in my time of sorrow, that would suck! I would take that as a hint as to their feelings about me personally, my impression of the fire service is that it is close knit, like family.
    It really is disrespectful if the allegations are true.

  28. LWitherspoon

    @A. Williams
    The above article states that “On Monday, Williams said Mayor Harry Rilling had promised before the election to fire McCarthy, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord and then-Personnel Director James Haselkamp.”
    The Mayor says you’re wrong and he never promised to fire anybody. Which of you has the facts right?

  29. Ed Isaacs

    I just had a flashback. Fire Chief James Verda didn’t attend my father’s wake or funeral in 1990. It wasn’t required then either. Deputy Chief Sanford Anderson was there.

  30. Piberman

    Its hard not to read Mr Williams letter and not feel a great sense of sadness. The letter served no useful purpose and suggests serious leadership issues within the local NAACP Chapter. Fair minded citizens will ignore these charges against Chief McCarthy and Mayor Rilling. Lets hope this unfortunate outburst incident will be quickly laid to rest. And forgotten about. As it so richly deserves.

  31. Casey Smith

    Mr. Williams states: ” sent to jail for a year and charged with a felony.”

    Did he or did he not serve time in jail for a felony?

  32. The Deal

    Somewhere it was stated there are those with information to back up Mr. Williams statements. Wouldn’t it be logical that if the former, and current, city administration has this information that they would want to interview others who have experienced, or witnessed, behavior by Chief McCarthy Mr. Williams is claiming? If there are others, compile a list, conduct interviews, then let the chips fall where they may.

  33. RU4REAL

    @The Deal, it is that simple.
    Mr. Berman you can’t be serious, ignore racism allegations? All that is needed is for the chief to respond and end it.
    You certainly can’t ignore it, I would hope those fair minded people would want the truth.
    Norwalk doesn’t need a head in the sand mentality.

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