JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city of Jacksonville has suspended a code inspector who sparked controversy Monday after she issued a warning citation to a Westside business over military flags and then was caught on surveillance video in a confrontation with a customer who objected to the citation.
The inspector's supervisor, who was present during the incident, has also been suspended, Mayor Lenny Curry said Tuesday.
Both employees will still be receiving pay during the investigation, the city confirmed.
Melinda Power came under fire after she cited Jaguar Power Sports for a rooftop display that includes two United States flags, a Jacksonville Jaguars flag and flags representing every branch of the military.
A Facebook video from an employee at the business describing the confrontation that followed has gone viral, with more than 5 million views.
Employees said a customer, who happened to be a wounded warrior, overheard Power issuing the citation and got upset. They said when he objected, she insulted him, saying he “did nothing for this country.”
He told her he took three bullets in the leg while serving in the military.
“You don’t have to listen. You don’t have to hear anything. If you watch the same video, her body language says it all,” sales manager Marcy Moyer said. “There is nothing polite. There is nothing unassertive about her behavior.”
According to a statement from Curry, it was the confrontation that put Power in hot water with the city:
“Employees of the city of Jacksonville are the servants of taxpayers who have a duty to enforce our laws and regulations. I expect every one of them to do that job in a manner that is respectful and reflects the privilege we all have to serve this great city. What I saw reported is 100 percent inconsistent with how I expect every city employee to interact with our citizens.
"I have ordered a review of the actions of the employee and pending the completion of that review, the employee and her supervisor have been placed on leave. Today I will ask every manager of city departments to review our procedures with each city employee. Once a review of the actions in this matter is complete, appropriate corrective action will be enforced for any wrongdoing.
"As the son and grandson of military veterans, and the mayor of a city with a proud history of commitment to our nation’s defense, I will not tolerate disparagement or disrespect of the men and women who serve or served. On behalf of the City of Jacksonville I apologize to veterans and service members who are rightly troubled by the events that have been reported.
"While current ordinance does not address residents or businesses displaying military flags, I will not allow any citation of those who demonstrate their support for the Armed Forces. My team is working with the city’s Office of General Counsel to bring clarity to the relevant city laws.”
Curry told News4Jax on Tuesday that he personally apologized to the veteran and the business owners.
“I expect when they're interacting with business owners, citizens and veterans, to treat them with dignity and respect," Curry said. "It appears, based on what I've seen up to this point, that's not what happened yesterday."
Curry said that, as the city looks at the incident and reviews ordinances in place, every business and resident in Jacksonville can fly a military or American flag.
“What's most important here is -- let's boil this down: I expect city employees to respect the American flag, to respect flags of the branches of the United States military,” Curry said.
Power, who has been attacked on social media across the country over the incident, apologized Monday night in a Facebook post that was later removed from her page.
Power described the incident more as a misunderstanding, saying she thought the customer had asked, "Do you know what I did?" And that she responded, "Nothing."
She said tempers flared after that, adding, "I should never have been unprofessional and disrespectful period. Sincerely apologize."
Power also said in the post that her father, husband and son-in-law have all served in the military and that she has "the utmost respect for the military."
Moyer said Power was originally at the shop because the business had signs displayed too close to a sidewalk. She said the business has been “slapped on the wrist” for marketing before, but it was the warning over the flags that set off the firestorm.
Community rallies behind business
As the incident became national news, members of the Jacksonville community stopped to visit Jaguar Power Sports on Tuesday.
They brought pizza, fruit, coffee and plenty of “thank-you's.”
The phones also rang off the hook at the business Tuesday as support poured in.
“The story is not only shameful, it is embarrassing,” said David Ward, with B&W Marine Construction. "I’m just tired of seeing the military under attack."
Veteran Bob Goggin said what he saw on the news was "totally wrong."
"I rode over from Mayport to thank them for supporting the military," Goggin said.
After seeing the video, veteran Ernest Faivre and his son also went to Jaguar Power Sports to shop for a motorcycle.
"I came here today to show my support for this business and our veterans," Faivre said.
Jaguar Power Sports owner Shaun Jackrel told News4Jax on Tuesday that it was rewarding to see how many people have reached out to the business. He also said he was pleased with how quickly the city took action, suspending Power and her supervisor.
“They’ve done great things for us as a business. As a small business, we rely on them," Jackrel said. "Moving forward, I just want to make sure that they’re there to help us and we can help them kind of better mold some of these policies so it doesn’t happen to another business.”
Moyer said she never expected the swell of community support.
She said that, within hours of posting the video, city leaders, including Curry, apologized and said the flags were welcome.
The customer who got into the confrontation with Power, who asked not to be identified, told News4Jax that he is happy the mayor responded. He said he would like Power to apologize to the veteran community, not necessarily to him. He added that he "doesn't want anyone to lose their job."
Moyer also said she doesn't want to see Power fired, saying anyone can have a bad day and that the woman's poor behavior was a bad representation of the city of Jacksonville.
"How they're going to deal with their employee is going to be on them," Moyer said. "I know that our customer base would love to see me say, 'Fire her,' but I hate to see anybody lose their job. That was not the purpose of this. It was to bring awareness and hope that someone would not treat someone else that way."
Moyer said the threats lodged against Power are uncalled for.
“Leave this woman alone. Let the city of Jacksonville do their job and (do) what they see fit,” Moyer said. “It is their employee to deal with. We brought it to their attention and they are definitely addressing it.”
Councilman Garrett Dennis, who represents the area where the business is located, said it appears from the video that Power was in the wrong, but that she still deserves a fair investigation.
“We’ve gotten calls and emails from as far away as California from this incident, and that is unfortunate,” Dennis said. “I think this is a situation where we had an overzealous city employee applying the law inappropriately.”
Curry said discipline for the incident could include termination but that would come after a thorough investigation and that Power and her supervisor are entitled to due process.
Jaguar Power Sports is now selling custom T-shirts online for $10. Jackrel said the proceeds will go to a local military charity.