A former Los Angeles city firefighter who received $1.43 million from the city because a colleague spiked his spaghetti with dog food testified under oath Friday that he also took part in hazing other firefighters. Testifying in a lawsuit brought by two former supervisors who are suing the city because they were suspended over the dog food prank, Tennie Pierce said he poured steak sauce onto another firefighter who had been strapped to a chair.
Called “chairing,” the department tradition was performed on firefighters reaching such milestones as retirement or leaving for another station, Pierce said.
“It could be considered hazing,” Pierce said under questioning by Gregory W. Smith, one of the attorneys for LAFD Capts. John Tohill and Christopher Burton.
Asked by Smith if the prank was improper, Pierce replied, “Yes.”
Pierce, 52, also said he was initially suspected of another prank in which a dead rat was put into a firefighter’s locker.
“Because you pulled a lot of pranks, right?” Smith asked.
“No, sir, that’s not true,” Pierce replied.
Jorge Arevalo – who was suspended for six days without pay for putting dog food in Pierce’s meal at the Westchester station – testified Friday that he committed the act on impulse and that neither captain on his shift knew beforehand of his plans.
LAFD Capts. John Tohill and Christopher Burton allege they were given stiffer unpaid suspensions than the six days Arevalo was suspended because they are white and he is Latino. Burton was suspended for 30 days and Tohill for 24 days. They sued the city in October 2006.
Attorneys for the captains also maintain that the Oct. 14, 2004, dog food incident was nothing more than a prank and was not pulled on Pierce because of his race.
Pierce claimed the incident was racially related in his suit against the city filed in November 2005. However, in testimony Friday he said he was not initially sure whether he was the victim of racial discrimination and did not come to that conclusion until much later.
Describing how the dog food incident occurred, Pierce testified he walked into the dining area that night and Arevalo spoke up.
“Your meal is on the stove,” Arevalo said, according to Pierce.
Pierce said he got the plate, took off the foil covering and began to eat. He said he noticed after the first bite that there appeared to be meat sauce covering the spaghetti.
“I immediately looked up and guys started to laugh at me,” Pierce testified. “I stood up and asked if somebody put something in my food.”
Some of the other firefighters began leaving, Pierce said. Arevalo twice offered to get Pierce another plate, but Pierce said he declined and demanded to know if he put anything in the food.
“At that time I pushed my plate away because I thought it was the best thing to do, to walk out of the kitchen,” Pierce testified.
In his claim for damages filed with the city in April 2005, Pierce states Arevalo, Burton and Tohill “intentionally brought dog food to the fire station and fed it to me without my knowledge or consent.”
Tohill and Burton have denied knowing Arevalo was going to commit the prank.
Asked by Smith whether he believed Tohill and Burton knew in advance about the dog food incident, Pierce replied, “I wasn’t concerned about the captains. I wanted to know what was in my food.”
Pierce also said that in a subsequent meeting with the captains, he was told they knew dog food was on his plate but he “wasn’t supposed to eat it.”
Arevalo and other firefighters came to him later that night, told him the whole story, apologized and offered to eat the dog food, Pierce testified.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers acknowledge that Tohill was with firefighter Michael Pagliuso when the dog food was purchased. However, they maintain Tohill never intended for the can to be opened and that it was to be given to him as a trophy of sorts because the athletic Pierce called himself “Big Dog” and had played an outstanding volleyball game the day of the prank.
Pierce testified Friday that he only called himself “Big Dog” that day while playing volleyball and did not use the term to describe himself again.
Written by The Daily Breeze