An FDNY fire marshal is facing new allegations that he mocked a subordinate with homophobic and anti-Semitic language — the latest revelation in the ongoing legal battle surrounding the alleged cover-up of a deadly Harlem fire.
According to new legal papers filed in Putnam County, Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Michael Durkin regularly bullied Jonathan Cummings, a Jewish firefighter. "Don't tell your little Jewish buddy cumshot about this trip," Durkin allegedly wrote to another firefighter. "He is a Jewish wash woman."
A lawyer for the Cummings family, Peter Gleason, says the messages fit a pattern of religious insults leveled by Durkin. "He'd say 'those are your people' when there were Hasidic Jews walking down the street," Gleason said. "Anti-Semitism is alive and well in the fire department."
The text messages, viewed by Gothamist and first reported by the Post, were sent in April of 2017. Less than a year later, Cummings landed in the department's cross hairs, after he helped investigate the blaze on set of Ed Norton's Motherless Brooklyn adaption, which claimed the life of firefighter Michael Davidson and left two others injured.
The FDNY determined that the fire was ultimately caused by a busted boiler igniting nearby flammable objects in the cellar, and thus the responsibility of the building owner, not Norton. But Cummings, as well as the lead fire marshal on the case, Scott Specht, claim the investigation was rigged to protect Norton. They say that while the boiler was undamaged, there was clear evidence that the movie's crew had illegally tampered with the building's electrical system and pierced important wiring with wood screws.
After bringing their concerns to the city's Department of Investigation, both Specht and Cummings say they faced retaliation from the FDNY. Cummings and his father Ronald, a retired Scarsdale cop, were soon told to turn over their guns to the city without explanation. Jonathan Cummings was suspended, then placed on modified duty, for conduct unbecoming of an officer.
Last month, Ronald Cummings said he planned to sue the city and the fire department for confiscating his handguns as “collateral damage in a nefarious FDNY plot against his FDNY Fire Marshal son, Jonathan Cummings."
Details of the cover-up and subsequent retaliation, the suit alleges, "would rival a John Grisham novel.” City attorneys will face questions about the investigation during a March 5th court date in Putnam County.
"The fire department hasn’t doubled down, they’ve tripled down and quadrupled down," Gleason told Gothamist. "The FDNY is not in a position to continue the cover-up of the death of Michael Davidson. It goes to the first deputy commissioner and the commissioner’s office."
The FDNY did not respond to inquiries. A spokesperson for the city law department declined to comment.