City questions credibility of JFRD captain at center of lawsuit

Lawsuit alleges Capt. Eric Mitchell discriminated against by fellow firefighters

Capt. Eric Mitchell was on the stand Tuesday morning for cross-examination. (Courtroom sketch by Steve Bridges)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On day five of a civil suit trial against the city of Jacksonville, the defense questioned the credibility of the fire captain who filed the discrimination and retaliation complaint. 

Capt. Eric Mitchell, with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, filed the lawsuit against Division Chief Gail Loput, Fire Chief Kurt Wilson and the city of Jacksonville. According to the lawsuit, Mitchell claims he was discriminated against for being black and, when he spoke out about it, he was retaliated against.

But on Friday in court, the defense focused on reducing Mitchell's credibility as a good employee. The jury heard testimony from Wilson, who said Mitchell's perception of the situation was wrong. 

Wilson testified that Loput is not racist and that Mitchell was moved to a different position after he learned other staff members were frustrated with Mitchell's job performance.

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Lawsuit: Jacksonville fire captain discriminated against by fellow firefighters 
COURT DOCUMENT: Amended complaint and demand for jury trial

Attorney Randy Reep, who is not affiliated with the case, said that, for the city to win the case, it has to get the jury to question Mitchell's claims. 

"It's actually important for both sides," Reep said. "This is a 'he said, she said' type of case, which many civil cases are. So it's who do you believe? Sometimes, regrettably, who do you like?'

Mitchell claims that when he spoke up about being discriminated against, he was moved from his position. 

Reep said that, even if it wasn't a demotion in rank, the jury could see it as retaliation.  

"Imagine you were a homicide detective and something occurred to where you were placed back on patrol, where one job has much more prestige ... A lot of people don't understand there are many ways the equivalent," Reep said. "Keep in mind, it doesn't have to be, one, what was the purpose of doing that by the chief nor perceived by Mr. Mitchell but, rather, what would a reasonable person believe?" 

Due to the Columbus Day holiday Monday, the jury will return Tuesday for testimony and closing arguments. 

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