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St. George Island Fire Chief resigns, caught on video using racial slur

Interim chief Ben Matthewson to serve until new chief found
Posted at 6:39 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-13 12:57:06-04

ST. GEORGE ISLAND, Fla. (WTXL) — UPDATE: St. George Island Fire Chief Kevin Delahanty has resigned after being suspended for yelling a racial slur at a Black beachgoer in March.

The fire department released the following statement on April 13.

At its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, the Board of Directors of the St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department accepted the resignation of Kevin Delahanty. Ben Mathewson will continue to serve on an interim basis as the Fire Chief and John Alonzo will serve as Deputy Chief. The Board will begin its search for a new Fire Chief and is working on that application process to make sure that St. George Island, owners, residents, and visitors all get the highest quality volunteer fire department and first responder unit.

St. George Island Fire Chief Kevin Delahanty has been suspended from his position.

Board members of the volunteer fire department met Monday night to discuss a video of Delahanty yelling at black beach goer Kylon Wisham. The video ends with the Fire Chief shouting a racial slur.

"In that moment, I thought that our ancestors fought so hard for us to have peace and to live equally, equity. And right now in 2022 that still exists," Wishom reflected on the night.

Wishom lives in Louisiana. He says he's choosen St. George Island as his vacation spot for the last seven years.

"It doesn't matter what kind of degree, you have, or what kind of accolades you have. They see you as that word, and it is very disrespectful, very degrading and it shouldn't be but it exists," he said.

Wishom says the altercation happened Saturday night. He was picking up his son and nephew from the basketball court on the island. Wishom says he first encountered Delahanty at the four way stop. He says Delahanty waved for him to go first, but noticed that Delahanty began to turn down every street Wishom did. He eventually pulled off to the side of road.

"Initially, he said, 'Do you know where you are?' And then he uses different verbiage, 'Do you know where the F you are?' And I put the window down. I said, 'Excuse me,' he said, 'You have to have respect for this island boy, you have to have respect for this island.' So after he said that I rolled the window back up."

Wishom says he pulled out his phone and started recording. In the brief recording, Delahanty asks Wishom if he needs help, before pulling off, shouting a racial slur.

He says with his young son in the backseat, he wanted to use the moment as a life lesson.

"My mindset was he's gonna watch the way I respond. There's power in the way you respond. So in that moment, I was like you know what if I respond the wrong way, it could go here. If I get out of my car, I could lose my life, so in that moment, it was teachable moment," he said.

Wishom then called the Franklin County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff AJ Smith praises how his team handled the situation.

"Our officer handled it appropriately. We were called, we responded. We made a report. It was reported to the county administrator as it should've been," Sheriff Smith said.

While Wishom had hopes of having Delahanty arrested, Sheriff Smith says that didn't happen.

"Unfortunately, it's not against the law to say ugly and crude things. That's the case in this incident, it's not unlawful," he said.

In a statement to ABC 27, the St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department Board attorney Barbara Sanders said

The Board of the St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department apologizes for the recent incident between one of our visitors and the Fire Chief of the Department. The behavior reported is not representative of our organization or the values of our community. After a special Board meeting, the Board immediately suspended Mr. Delahanty from all duties. Mr. Delahanty will undergo counseling for anger management and will also attend diversity training as directed by the Board. The Board is extremely sorry for the actions of the Fire Chief and will extend a personal apology to Mr. Kylon Wishom.

Wishom says while he is appreciative of the fast action, he worries it may not be enough.

"I feel like it is huge that they acted fast on it. But when you look at suspension, what kind of suspension is it? Is he still being paid? When it's a diversity training, you know, who's giving this training? When they say anger management, I mean will that help? That's the questions I have. Will all these things you're putting in place help?"

ABC 27 is still waiting to learn more about the specifics of the counseling and training.

Wishom says he also hopes this can spark change in laws against racial slurs.

"The most disheartening part about it is I feel like if we don't understand the system is broken, we can't fix that system. [The officer's] words he said 'What he did was wrong, but it's not illegal.' I feel like that's a pass. We can't give them a pass for doing the wrong thing. This is horrible," he said.

As for plans to return to the island, Wishom says he's still processing what happened.

"I feel like now, we have to really do our homework before traveling. We have been going to St. George the last seven years. I've never encountered anything like this."

While Sheriff Smith say he hopes this doesn't change how Wishom and others view the island and the county.

"This is not the way the majority of Franklin County acts or feels. We're an accepting community here," said Sheriff Smith.